CHIBA -- A man with cerebral palsy who made 27 attempts in seven years to try and gain entry to a regular high school died in November at age 21 without being able to fulfill his dream.
Jun Watanabe, a resident of the city of Narita in Chiba Prefecture in east Japan, had been repeatedly denied enrollment even though the schools had not reached their enrollment limits for new students. Watanabe's mother Misa, 57, is lobbying the national and prefectural governments to rectify the situation that led to her son being rejected time after time.
According to his mother, although Watanabe needed medical care for the suction of his sputum and it was difficult for him to get around on his own, he was able to use a buggy-style wheelchair in his elementary and junior high school days to travel to regular schools in Narita.
In junior high school, a nurse would regularly visit the school, and was on hand in the event that his condition suddenly worsened. The teacher in charge of his class said that Watanabe and his schoolmates were not separated from each other. "Spending the time together made it a learning experience for the other children too," the teacher recalled.
With assistance from a helper, starting in 2013 Watanabe made 27 attempts to enter prefectural high schools, including during additional recruitment drives by schools, but was turned down every time. On 25 of the occasions, he was rejected even though the schools had places available for new students.
When asked for the reasons for rejecting the applications, all of the schools reportedly said it had been a comprehensive decision, and that concerns around impairments were not behind the rejection.
An evening high school held a second round of admissions tests to fill 62 vacancies, in which 10 students including Watanabe sat the exam. He was the only one of them not to be granted a place. In response to a request for comment, the school's vice principal said, "Our decision was taken in accordance with the standards of the entrance exam. We cannot provide a specific reason for the failure."
Toshio Ezaki, a former staffer of the secretariat of the Chiba Prefectural Board of Education and now a specially appointed professor in social welfare studies at Meiji Gakuin University, expressed concern, "If the reason is that support for people with disabilities is not there in schools either financially or among personnel, children and parents who choose anything other than special educational needs schools are left behind."
In spring 2019, when Watanabe received written notification that he had failed to get a place in a regular high school for the 27th time, his mother asked him if he wanted to stop applying. He responded with a low groan. Then she asked him if he wanted to try again, and he smiled back at her. But in September his condition took a turn for the worse, and he died while hospitalized.
His mother treasures the photographs she has of him on Coming of Age Day in January 2018. "Jun worked hard to live a normal life. So he had to stand up against discrimination." At the event, he smiled and seemed to enjoy himself when lined up next to former classmates from his junior high school days.
House of Councillors member Yasuhiko Funago, who is part of the minor opposition Reiwa Shinsengumi party and has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), used an example of a student from another prefecture during a meeting of the upper house's Committee on Education, Culture and Science in November to discuss high schools' rejections of applicants despite having places available.
Speaking to the Mainichi Shimbun, he said, "To stop more children losing their ties to society, there should at least be guarantees of the admissions of all applicants as long as there are available places. I feel angry that there are people in this world who cannot pursue happiness, which is human beings' common goal of living. "
(Japanese original by Shohei Kato, Chiba Bureau)