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Oita bullying review probe received just 60% of docs from first panel rejecting case

The document that the girl's mother obtained through a freedom of information request that admits to insufficiencies in the materials provided to a reinvestigation committee is seen in this photo taken in Oita on Feb. 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

OITA -- A city panel reinvestigating the alleged bullying of a first-year junior high school student and her subsequent suicide attempt received only around 60% of documents from a prior investigation by the city's board of education, it has been learned.

The female student at the center of the case reported that from around May 2017, in addition to male classmates calling her a "tick" and a "cockroach," she began finding anonymous letters saying things like "die" in her desk on multiple occasions.

She subsequently suffered from ailments including vomiting spells, and began harming herself. She attempted suicide at home in August of that year. From October she stopped attending school and later had to switch schools.

The Oita Municipal Board of Education determined that the case constituted a "serious matter" under the law to promote measures to prevent bullying. A third-party panel set up by the Oita Municipal Board of Education began a probe in December 2017, and compiled their report in October 2018.

The report, however, not only failed to touch upon the alleged verbal abuse by the girl's classmates, but also pointed to the possibility that the letters left in her desk might have been written by her. It ultimately did not acknowledge that any bullying had taken place.

The girl's side argued that it was unreasonable for there to be no mention of verbal bullying by her classmates in the report. The Oita Municipal Government then decided to conduct another investigation with a basis in the same bullying prevention law.

Soon after the city's panel began its reinvestigation into the case in March 2019, it requested the submission of all documents related to the prior investigation from the Oita Municipal Board of Education, which was the secretariat for the third-party panel.

However, when the female student's mother was interviewed by the reinvestigation committee in July of that year, she became suspicious that the new committee had not been given all the documentation that she herself had compiled, and tried to confirm as much with them.

When the reinvestigation committee conveyed the mother's concerns to the Oita Municipal Board of Education, it emerged that of the approximately 100 documents related to the third-party panel's investigation, 40 documents had not been passed on to the reinvestigation committee.

These included a timeline charting the bullying the student faced, including verbal abuse as well as the development of her physical ailments; a document in which the mother sought the correction of the school's report to the municipal board of education for neglecting to mention verbal bullying and other acts; and a section of the third-party panel's interview with the mother.

At a reinvestigation committee meeting in August 2019, multiple members who saw the document made by the girl's mother, which had not been among the original files handed over to the committee, stated that it contained "very important content."

The Oita Municipal Board of Education told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We overlooked the document created by the mother. We are very sorry to have caused the student's guardians to feel distrust toward us."

The student's mother said, "It makes me feel like the municipal board of education is trying to interfere with the investigation."

Yoshiyasu Watanabe, an attorney who is well versed in bullying investigations said, "The role of reinvestigation committees is to determine whether the investigation results of a third-party panel are valid, and to consider what kind of new probes are necessary -- which obviously requires all documentation created in the initial investigation. Having files missing shakes the very foundations of the reinvestigation."

He added, "It is necessary to build a mechanism in which third-party panels create a table of contents of the documents and hands over all relevant information to reinvestigation committees."

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

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