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Summer break extended for some schools in Kyushu to prevent heatstroke

Students at Oji Junior High School in the city of Oita are thrilled on June 5, 2018, following the installation of an air conditioner in a classroom. (Mainichi)

Amid record high temperatures in many parts of Japan, summer vacation has been extended for some elementary and junior high schools in Kyushu and some other areas in order to prevent students from suffering heatstroke.

While elementary and junior high school started on Aug. 27 for cities in Kyushu such as Fukuoka, the city of Nakama and the town of Kawasaki in Fukuoka Prefecture decided to shift their second term opening ceremonies from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, extending summer break for a week, to cope with the scorching heat. Some 90 elementary and junior high schools in six cities in Yamaguchi, Oita and Nagasaki prefectures are taking steps to beat the heat such as shortening classes or finishing them early.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) notified prefectural boards of education to make children's health a top priority, and to consider measures such as extending summer break and canceling classes on some days. Such measures follow the July death of a 6-year-old boy from heatstroke after returning from a field trip in the Aichi Prefecture city of Toyota, but problems emerged such as how to provide sufficient class time and obtain the consent of parents.

Seven elementary and junior high schools in Kawasaki originally planned to have their opening ceremonies for the second term about one week early compared to an average year, on Aug. 27, but decided to postpone them until Sept. 3. Only one of the schools in the town has air conditioners in general classrooms, and the risk of heatstroke was pointed out for the other schools. The town plans to install water servers in school gymnasiums, assuming that the heat will continue. The schools are considering shortening the period of winter breaks and holding classes on Saturdays to make up for the extended summer break.

Ten elementary and junior high schools in Nakama had also originally planned to hold their second term opening ceremonies on Aug. 27, but decided to postpone them until Sept. 3. The Nakama Municipal Government installed air conditioners in general classrooms several years ago, but did not do so for special classrooms such as music rooms, which raised heatstroke concerns. Alternatively, the municipal government will serve school lunches on the day of the second term opening ceremony so that classes can be held on that day -- an unusual move. The Nakama Municipal Board of Education stated, "Children's health comes first. We were expecting opposition from parents, but there haven't been any yet."

At least 90 elementary and junior high schools in the Yamaguchi Prefectural cities of Ube, Sanyo-Onoda, Hikari and Kudamatsu, and the city of Nagasaki, which are holding their second term opening ceremonies on Sept. 3, and in the Oita Prefecture city of Kunisaki, which are holding their second term opening ceremonies on Aug. 27, are planning to finish school early for two to five days to avoid scorching heat in the afternoon. However, the Ube Municipal Board of Education said, "It is hard to extend summer break" since junior high schools here will have a sports festival soon after the start of the second term. Most of these schools have not installed air conditioners in classrooms.

On the other hand, the Kitakyushu Municipal Board of Education in Fukuoka Prefecture explained that elementary and junior high schools here can deal with the heat since around 90 percent of their general classrooms have air conditioners. The schools showed consideration to households where both parents work as they would have a hard time finding somewhere to leave their children if summer breaks are extended. The city of Fukuoka will have second term opening ceremonies at its elementary and junior high schools on Aug. 27 as planned, while the city of Kumamoto will start the second term at its elementary and junior high schools on Sept. 3, as planned, since both cities have air conditioners in all general classrooms at such schools.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the average temperature in both northern and southern Kyushu will be the same or higher compared to an average year, and the heat is expected to continue for a while.

(Japanese original by Masashi Yomogida, Kyushu News Department)

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