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Shiga Pref. parents worry school letters on missile attacks needlessly fuel fears

A note titled "Responding to ballistic missile launches" that was distributed to students and parents at elementary, junior high and other schools in Shiga Prefecture is pictured on April 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

OTSU -- In response to letters sent home from school calling on students and their families to be careful of ballistic missiles possibly hitting Japan, parents have expressed concerns that the letters are unnecessarily causing fear among children.

    Since April 21, letters have been sent home from Shiga Prefecture's elementary, junior high and senior high schools as well as kindergartens, warning of the possibility of missiles striking Japan.

    The central government's Cabinet Office sent out a request to all of Japan's 47 prefectural governments that the public be put on alert for possible incoming missiles. There were no specific instructions on how the issue should be handled by schools, so the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education independently decided that schools would be closed if a warning to stay indoors had been issued by 7 a.m.

    In addition, the board called on prefectural high schools to inform students to take such measures as finding cover in solid buildings in the case of a missile attack. The prefectural board of education also sent a similar memo to municipal boards of education, and requested that they take "appropriate measures."

    The Mainichi Shimbun found that based on the memo, many municipal boards of education created templates for letters, or schools drafted letters independently, which were then distributed to students. At the same time, at least two cities felt that such action would unnecessarily cause fear and refrained from sending such information to students and their families.

    Since April 24, the prefectural board of education has received four phone calls from student guardians inquiring about the letters. Multiple municipal boards of education, including those of Otsu and Kusatsu, have also received a total of over 10 calls from parents saying their children were frightened by the letters, or that they question the basis for such warnings.

    A 78-year-old woman in eastern Shiga Prefecture who saw a letter her grandchild brought home from school commented, "It seemed like they're trying to fuel fears." Meanwhile, the prefectural board of education has taken the position that from a crisis management point of view, it is necessary to inform students of potential dangers.

    At a debriefing session on prefectural administration held on the evening of April 26, Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki said, "If there is room for improvement in how we communicate the information, I'll consider changing it."

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