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East Japan high schoolers strike to protest school reopening amid virus pandemic

A student strike notice, which was sent to the Ibaraki Prefectural Board of Education and other bodies, is seen on April 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Shimpei Torii)

HITACHI, Ibaraki -- A group of students at a public high school in this eastern Japan city went on a strike to protest against the school reopening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The third-year students at Hitachi Daiichi High School held demonstrations from April 8 to 10 after sending a strike notice to the Ibaraki Prefectural Board of Education and other bodies, demanding that all prefectural schools be temporarily shut down.

According to the high school, of their 233 third-year students, 36 were absent from classes on April 8 citing concerns over the coronavirus, followed by 82 students on April 9 and 76 on April 10. Many of them are believed to be strike sympathizers.

In the strike notice, the students argued that measures to prevent the spread of the virus need to be taken as early as possible even in areas that haven't seen any infections. It also demanded that the education board temporarily close all schools in the prefecture until adequate supplies of masks and other protective items are secured, and that online and other systems be established so that students can continue to study uninterrupted, among other measures.

The notice pointed out that the school environment is "prone to high infection risks" but that "the prefectural board of education hasn't provided any specific guidelines for infection prevention." It went on to say that school closures only in limited areas could generate a gap in education opportunities. The strikers suggest that they may extend the boycott period depending on how the prefectural government responds.

An Ibaraki Prefectural Government official told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We will take the students' opinions sincerely, though there is no change to the prefectural government's course of action." The official added, "If they ever contact us, we'd like to explain our position in a careful manner."

(Japanese original by Takahiro Tauchi, Hitachi Local Bureau, and Shimpei Torii, Mito Bureau)

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