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20 yrs after knife attack, security status at Japan's school gates largely unknown: survey

Schoolchildren are seen ringing a bell during the "gathering of prayers and oaths" to commemorate a stabbing rampage at Ikeda Elementary School, in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, on June 8, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

OSAKA -- About 60% of local governments recently surveyed by the Mainichi Shimbun do not know whether staff at each of their elementary schools stand guard at the gate when opened for students.

    The survey was conducted on a total of 74 municipalities including prefectural capitals, ordinance-designated major cities, and Tokyo's special 23 wards, as Japan approaches 20 years since a knife-wielding man stormed into Osaka Kyoiku University-affiliated Ikeda Elementary School in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, killing eight children and injuring 15, including two teachers, on June 8. The bereaved families are concerned, as they "feel the incident is being forgotten."

    The stabbing rampage led to enhanced safety measures, such as closing school gates, installing security cameras, and local volunteer patrols when students are going to and from school. Four years after the incident, the education ministry notified local governments across Japan that they should basically close school gates except when students are going to and from school, and for teachers and other staff to be present when it is open.

    The survey asked about safety measures at a total of 5,151 public elementary schools from April to May, and received responses from all the municipalities queried. When asked if they knew the number of schools where staff or security guards were standing by school gates in accordance with the notification, 43 municipalities say they did not know. Thirty-one municipalities knew the situation at 1,601 schools, and staff or guards were "always standing" at the gates at 1,361 of them. Ten municipalities said there were schools under their jurisdiction where the gates were not being guarded.

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology investigates the status of safety measures at schools nationwide including at elementary, junior high and high schools, every two to three years. In response to the question, "Are you taking measures to prevent invasion by suspicious people?" more than 90% answered that they do so each time they were surveyed, but an official at the ministry's Office for the Promotion of Safety Education said, "We haven't confirmed the details of whether or not staff are standing at the gates."

    The knife rampage exposed schools' failure to follow education ministry guidance on safety management, such as checking the identities of visitors. The ministry apologized to the bereaved families two years later, and signed an agreement to disseminate crisis management manuals to schools nationwide as a recurrence prevention measure and to review it with the help of outside experts.

    The Mainichi also asked about the number of schools that have a system in place for outside experts to check and advise on safety measures, including the crisis management manuals. Thirty municipalities knew about the situation in a total of 1,455 schools. Of these, only 1,002 schools, or 20% of all schools covered by the survey, had such a system in place.

    Meanwhile, municipalities were aware of whether intercoms were installed at the gates at a total of 3,093 schools, and security cameras at 3,189 schools -- both accounting for over 60% of the total. The survey also found that hardware measures were being taken, with 4,014 schools -- nearly 80% -- equipped with security tools such as sasumata -- a long pole with a forked end for apprehending or fending off attackers -- and 4,093 school distributing personal alarms and other devices to students.

    (Japanese original by Koichi Kirino, Osaka City News Department)

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