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Japan gov't urged to reveal more info on teachers punished over obscene acts

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on July 26, 2018. (Mainichi)

Local boards of education in Japan have failed to adequately disclose and share information on disciplinary measures against teachers at public schools under their supervision for carrying out obscene acts, although a growing number of instructors have been punished over such behavior.

Such a flaw allows teachers to be rehired while concealing that they had been punished over indecent acts and commit similar sex crimes again, raising serious questions as to how schools should protect children from such problematic instructors.

According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, a record 282 teachers at public schools, including elementary, junior high and high schools, were punished in the 2018 academic year over molestation and other obscene acts against students.

In one such case, a man who had worked as a part-time instructor at a municipal elementary school in the Aichi Prefecture city of Chiryu, central Japan, was sentenced to four years in prison in April 2018 by the Okazaki branch of the Nagoya District Court for molesting five male and female pupils at the school between 2016 and 2017.

In 2013, the man resigned after being fined for violating the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and was suspended from duty for six months while working as an elementary school teacher in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo.

However, he was hired as a part-time instructor at the Chiryu school in 2015. When he applied for his new job, he concealed that he had been punished in Saitama and changed the kanji characters used for his first name.

The Chiryu Municipal Board of Education might have avoided hiring the man if it had received information on disciplinary measures taken by the Saitama Prefectural Board of Education.

The education ministry introduced a system in fiscal 2019 to allow boards of education across the country to search for information on punitive measures against schoolteachers to prevent instructors whose licenses were revoked after they were dismissed in disgrace or given plain prison or severer sentences from being rehired.

Specifically, the ministry created databases on the names of punished teachers announced by boards of education in official journals and allows officials in charge of hiring teachers at boards of education to check the names of applicants against the information to see if they had been involved in offenses.

Boards of education welcome the introduction of the scheme.

"The system allows us to search relevant information easily. There were limits to what we could do to confirm the facts during job interviews," says an official of the Okayama Prefectural Board of Education.

"We've been able to confirm information on individuals whose teaching licenses have been nullified by examining journals, but there is a massive amount of information and we had fears of overlooking necessary information," commented an official of the Aomori Prefectural Board of Education.

Yet, the system is far from perfect. Since the databases do not carry the details of punitive measures, a ministry official says local boards of education have no choice but to inquire with the relevant education boards over such information.

However, the protection of personal information has prevented boards from obtaining such information. The Okayama board official says, "We can't receive detailed information for privacy concerns. We also can't provide certain details even if we are asked. It'd be desirable if the national government collectively (managed the databases) to provide information."

Moreover, the ministry retains such information in the databases for only three years in principle on the grounds that teachers who committed offenses have the right to reintegrate themselves into society. Therefore, for example, information on a teacher who was slapped with a disciplinary measure five years ago for molestation is no longer carried in the ministry database.

There are calls among local education officials urging the ministry to allow access to more detailed information on schoolteachers punished for molestation and other similar acts over a longer period.

"It's not ideal for teachers who committed obscene acts in the past to teach at schools again because it is a matter related to the safety of schoolchildren. I think it's better to extend the period of storing such information and release more information such as the details of punitive measures," says the Aomori board official.

Hiromi Nakano, head of the incorporated nonprofit organization "Shiawasenamida" that is striving to eliminate sexual violence, underscores the need for education boards nationwide to proactively disclose information to prevent a recurrence of teachers performing obscene acts.

"Withholding the fact that a sex offense has been committed at a school is tantamount to giving tacit approval of such behavior. If such a practice is permitted, schoolchildren can't be protected," commented Nakano.

(Japanese original by Gan Kristina and Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau, and Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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