Editorial: Suicide of bullied boy calls school probes into question
A questionnaire conducted at a junior high school in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, immediately after a 13-year-old boy leapt to his death in October last year found that the student was "forced to practice killing himself" and was "told to put a dead sparrow into his mouth" -- comments suggesting he had been severely bullied.
The Otsu Municipal Board of Education, however, failed to disclose the results of the questionnaire when it held a news conference in November last year, and wrapped up its investigation into the case.
Responding to a damages lawsuit filed this year by the student's parents against the Otsu Municipal Government and other parties concerned, the education board insisted that it could not determine the suicide was triggered by bullying. After the content of the questionnaire surfaced, the board maintained that it had been unable to confirm the facts because the questionnaire responses contained anonymous answers and hearsay.
One is left wondering how much time the education board spent analyzing the information that emerged through the questionnaire and whether officials painstakingly conducted follow-up surveys before calling off their investigation. The attitudes of the education board and school officials who repeatedly decline to comment on the case "as it is pending in court" are also puzzling.
In recent years, some schools have tailored their explanations about problems to face the threat of lawsuits. They seem to focus more on how advantageous or disadvantageous their explanations will be in court than on pursuing the truth to the best of their ability and revealing the facts. Is this how schools are supposed to be?
The issue of bullying at schools in Japan dates back decades, but schools have long hesitated to disclose cases of bullying, deeming them disgraceful or exceptional.
In 2006, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ordered schools to promptly instruct and continuously educate students about bullying, on the presumption that bullying could affect any child or school. At the same time, it issued detailed precautions. The ministry has also alerted schools to the possibility of underhanded bullying continuing even when the circumstances seem trivial or when the problems seem to have settled down.
In the student questionnaire in Otsu, it emerged that the victim had been subjected to coercive acts other than "suicide practice." Did the school and the education board thoroughly try to uncover the facts regarding every single piece of information provided in the questionnaire? One student reported speaking to a teacher about the bullying, but what was the school's response?
The information provided in the questionnaire and the lessons learned from the case should be shared widely. The school needs to reveal more about how and why the questionnaire was conducted and how the school evaluated the results.
Information disclosure at schools, which is increasingly being sought, needs to encompass scandals, their causes, the processes involved, the effects of those incidents, and the measures that need to be taken. Educational institutions should have been aware of such principles from bitter lessons in the past.
We urge educators to put legal issues aside and focus on uncovering the facts and disclosing them. Educators must not narrow the scope of information disclosed due to fears of potential lawsuits.
July 05, 2012(Mainichi Japan)