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Osaka mayor's post-quake tweet to cancel all classes causes chaos at schools

Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura tweets at 9:20 a.m. on June 18, 2018 that he has issued an instruction that all schools be closed in the city.
Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura is seen in this file photo dated May 1, 2017. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- Responses to the powerful earthquake that struck northern Osaka Prefecture on the morning of June 18 were mixed among schools in this city, with some institutions continuing classes even despite the city's decision to call off classes at all municipal schools.

    Under the city of Osaka's regional disaster prevention plan, the decision of whether to cancel classes in times of disaster is left up to the principal of each school regardless of the intensity of earthquakes. However, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura quickly declared on Twitter that morning that all schools in the city must be closed. As a result, schools were thrown into chaos, with parents rushing to pick up their children and flooding phone lines with inquiries.

    The Osaka Municipal Board of Education sent emails to schools at 9:07 a.m. on June 18, about 70 minutes after the quake struck, stating that the decision of whether to cancel classes was left up to the principal of each school. However, Mayor Yoshimura tweeted at 9:20 a.m., "I have issued an instruction that all schools be closed." Shortly before 10 a.m., the city education board once again emailed schools, urging institutions that decided not to cancel classes to "continue educational activities after securing safety." It was not until 11:04 a.m. that the education board finally told principals that all schools must be closed.

    The principal of an elementary school in Osaka's Kita Ward decided to call off classes as soon as children started showing up that morning. "Some children came to school crying and they could panic if there were aftershocks," the principal thought. The headmaster emailed all parents to inform them of the decision, and by 11 a.m. almost all students had gone back home.

    At an elementary school in the city's Yodogawa Ward, most of the students were on their way to school when the quake hit the region. Surmising that aftershocks may pose a further danger to children if they were sent back home right away, the principal had them stay inside the school buildings. At around 10:30 a.m., the principal decided to close the school at least for the day after parents began arriving upon reading the mayor's tweet.

    Meanwhile, an elementary school in Nishinari Ward gave classes from the first period as usual. "It's not that we are constantly following Twitter, where the mayor posted such an important tweet," a perplexed vice principal complained. "We were rather afraid of the possibility of children getting injured on their way back home amid risks of aftershocks."

    On June 19, Mayor Yoshimura defended his tweet for shutting down schools, saying that it was an "extralegal measure beyond manuals" after discussions with the superintendent of the education board and others concerned. He blamed the education board and schools for their lack of communication.

    The municipal education board, meanwhile, explained that they ended up following the mayor's instructions, now that he heads the disaster countermeasures headquarters set up following the earthquake, rather than the predetermined disaster prevention plan.

    (Japanese original by Toshiyuki Mano, Yukiko Hayashi and Takashi Okamura, Osaka City News Department)

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