Editorial: Probe into schoolboy's suicide exposes educators' aversion to trouble
The way authorities have handled a probe into bullying of an Otsu junior high school boy who committed suicide in October has highlighted officials' reluctance to thoroughly get to the bottom of any incident lest trouble surface.
Shiga Prefectural Police recently launched an investigation into the bullying allegations, suspecting the victim was assaulted. Surely for many people it was pitiful to see investigators searching a school building at night.
The case saw a major development earlier this month when it came to light that at least one student had revealed in a survey that bullies had forced the victim to practice suicide. The Otsu Municipal Board of Education had withheld the survey finding on the grounds that there was no conclusive evidence to support it.
Since the survey results were revealed on July 3, the public has seen the board handling the case sloppily and withholding relevant information -- an act some may consider tantamount to a cover-up.
While maintaining there is no conclusive proof that the victim was forced to practice suicide, educational authorities failed to confirm this with the alleged bullies.
In a follow-up survey, some respondents gave details of how classmates bullied the victim, such as holding a mock funeral for him and choking him under the pretext of practicing suicide. However, the board failed to notify the victim's bereaved family of these revelations. When asked why it had failed to do so, the board responded that it simply overlooked these responses in the survey.
The board failed to precisely confirm and scrutinize information on bullying of the victim. Now questions have emerged over why school authorities conducted the two surveys in the first place. Educators should take a hard look at themselves in light of the respondents' disappointment and distrust.
The survey results suggest that many students witnessed the victim being bullied and that some teachers were aware of the bullying. The board must clarify these suspicions.
To learn a lesson from the school and board response to the incident and prevent a recurrence, the public must find out why the school was unable to prevent such a worst-case scenario.
Prefectural police refused three times to accept a damages claim against the bullies from the father of the victim. However, the force recently launched a full-scale investigation under mounting pressure from the public. When interviewing students, police should pay close attention to the mental uneasiness that the students have experienced over the past nine months since the suicide.
The suicide of a student in a separate case at a Tokyo public junior high school in 1986 came as a shock to society, as the bullies had held a mock funeral for the victim and it was pointed out that at least one teacher was involved in the bullying. In another case in 2006, an elementary school girl committed suicide in Hokkaido, and it later came to light that the local board of education had ignored the victim's claim of bulling, which she mentioned in a suicide note.
In the past, whenever a schoolchild has committed suicide after being subjected to schoolyard bullying, the education ministry, relevant government bodies and education experts have discussed how to prevent a recurrence and improve the way teachers instruct students. The ministry pointed out in a directive that any child at any school is a potential victim of bullying, and urged school authorities to view cases of bullying from the standpoint of the victims. The ministry has also presented guidelines for responding to such cases. However, the latest incident shows the directive is nothing but a dead statement.
Apart from the ongoing criminal investigation into the case, the school and the board of education, as professionals in education, must investigate and clarify why they looked into the case in a merely perfunctory manner -- exposing a tendency to let sleeping dogs lie.
It is no exaggeration to say that the October 2011 suicide case could affect the fate of the system that governs education boards at local bodies.
July 13, 2012(Mainichi Japan)