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Mom of student called 'germ' at school links bullying to Fukushima disaster

The mother of a fourth-year elementary school student in Niigata, who has been staying home from school since late November after being called "germ" by his peers and his teacher, spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun, saying that her son was bullied because he came from nuclear disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture.

The family evacuated from Fukushima after the nuclear disaster. While the Niigata Municipal Board of Education has denied a link between the bullying of the student and his Fukushima roots, according to the mother, the student started being called "germ" around March of this year, which marked five years since the disaster, and this is one reason she argues that there is a connection.

According to the mother, around March 11 of this year when the nuclear disaster issue came up in class, her son proactively talked about his own experiences.

"He must have been happy to be able to give lots of answers," she says. However, it was around that time that he started being called "germ" by his classmates.

"Some kids who knew he had come from Fukushima started calling him germ, and that led to kids who didn't know him also calling him that, like a nickname," she says.

In June, the student talked to his teacher, complaining that he was "being treated like a germ." At that point the student is thought to have not considered the name as bullying, and when the teacher referred to him as "germ" after summer vacation ended, he didn't appear to be deeply bothered by it.

In early November, though, it was reported in the news that a junior high school student in Yokohama who had evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture was bullied by being called "germ." When the student in Niigata heard this, he said, "It's the same as me," and the mother says she thinks "he probably began to see himself as being bullied." On the mother's advice, the student talked to his teacher about it again on Nov. 17. When he came home, he triumphantly said with a smile that he had talked to the teacher.

After a strong earthquake off the Fukushima Prefecture coast early on the morning of Nov. 22 this year, the boy went off to school looking anxious, he and his mother having not yet been able to get in contact with the father, who works in Fukushima Prefecture. During recess that day, while the student was receiving teacher-parent correspondence from his teacher, the teacher called him "germ" again. The shocked student returned home, and since Nov. 24 has been staying home from school, saying, "I want to go to school, but I can't because that teacher is there."

According to the mother, at first school authorities denied the teacher had called the student "germ." On Nov. 25 the father called the school and said tearfully that "There are kids who commit suicide (when they are bullied)." Although the teacher apologized, the mother says that the teacher treated them coldly, saying it was only this year that they had become the student's homeroom teacher. The teacher has said they want to apologize to the student, but the student is refusing to see the instructor and the school principal has been visiting the family's home every day to try and deal with the matter.

The family has been planning to move after the free rent for the government-leased apartment they are living in ends at the end of this fiscal year. The mother says, "My son had been asking that we stay in the same school district, but now that this has happened, we have no choice but to have him change schools," adding, "We evacuated voluntarily (from Fukushima), and I don't want to impose on the people of Niigata."

According to the Niigata Municipal Board of Education, there are 291 children who have evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture to the city of Niigata. It holds that "there is no bullying of students related to their Fukushima roots."

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Timeline of events involving the bullying of the student:

2011:

March -- The Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster occur. The student evacuates to the city of Niigata.

2016:

Around March -- Student begins to be ostracized by peers and called "germ."

April -- Student enters fourth grade and homeroom teacher changes.

June -- Student speaks to teacher about being called "germ." Teacher disciplines classmates who bullied student.

Early November -- News is reported of a junior high school student in Yokohama who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture and was bullied, including being called "germ."

Nov. 17 -- Student again speaks to teacher about being bullied.

Nov. 22 -- During recess, student is called "germ" by teacher in classroom in front of classmates.

Nov. 24 -- Student begins to stay home from school (Nov. 23 was a school holiday).

Nov. 29 -- School questions students about incident. Multiple students testify that teacher called student "germ," and teacher also says it is true.

(Based on sources including student's parents and the Niigata Municipal Board of Education)

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