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Japan nursery staff had to sign confidentiality pledge just before child abuse discovered

Sakura nursery school where three staffers were found to have engaged in abuse of toddlers, is seen in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Ishikawa)

SUSONO, Shizuoka -- A private nursery school in this central Japan city where three employees were found to have engaged in abuse of toddlers required its employees to submit a written pledge to not divulge confidential information about the facility.

    While Susuno Mayor Harukaze Murata accused the Sakura nursery school of "covering up the abuse," the facility denied the allegation, saying that it was a "general pledge to maintain confidentiality."

    A copy of a written pledge that Sakura nursery school staffers were asked to submit, is seen at Susono City Hall in Shizuoka Prefecture on Dec. 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Ishikawa)

    The Susono Municipal Government announced the existence of the written pledge at a press conference on Nov. 30, and released a copy the following day. In the document, workers were asked to "pledge not to leak to a third party any personal information on children and nursing school employees obtained during work, as well as documents, electronic files, and confidential matters of the facility."

    The written pledge was addressed to Toshihiko Sakurai, director of the nursery school, who apparently made his staffers sign it between Oct. 21 and 24. In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on Nov. 30, Sakurai explained that the document was a general pledge to protect children's personal information. He added, "I didn't mean to say, 'Don't tell anyone about the abuse.' I absolutely had no intention of covering it up. It's a misunderstanding."

    In response, Mayor Murata showed anger and told the press on Dec. 1, "People consulted the city about 'having been forced to sign a written pledge not to reveal the details of inappropriate child care.' The pledge was in effect a cover-up."

    The nursery school admitted there was abuse as of Aug. 22 when it received guidance from the city government, and submitted an investigative report to the city three days later. Although there appears to be scant reason for the nursery school to cover up the matter again in October, the mayor insisted, "They (employees) were made to sign it just before it (the abuse) became public. It's nothing more than a cover-up."

    Susuno Mayor Harukaze Murata is seen speaking to directors of preschools and day care centers in the city during a meeting at Susono City Hall in Shizuoka Prefecture on Dec. 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Ishikawa)

    The municipal government held a meeting of day care and nursery school directors at the city hall on the evening of Dec. 1 in regards to abuse of toddlers by Sakura nursery school staffers. The meeting was closed to the public except for the beginning section. The municipal government apparently explained the circumstances of the abuse and demanded that proper child care be provided.

    Twenty directors from all 18 preschools and day care centers in the city attended the meeting, excluding the four institutions run by the corporation that manages Sakura nursery. Mayor Murata said, "The city has a responsibility to sincerely reflect on its failure to protect children and implement future measures. I ask you to look back on how your facilities have been run up to today and have a strong awareness of the need to prevent similar incidents from happening again." There were apparently no questions or comments raised from those in attendance.

    After the meeting, Yuki Nomura, 43, president of the company running Hidamari Hoikuen Hagu day care, said, "I was speechless because I thought it (the abuse) was unbelievable. If there is anything I can do for them (the abused toddlers and their guardians), I'd like to offer help."

    Miyuki Matsuyama, 55, director of municipal Fukara kindergarten, told the Mainichi, "We are trying to create an open workplace where people can feel comfortable leaving their children with us, but I would like to remind the staff of this issue and do our best for the children."

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Ishikawa, Numazu Local Bureau)

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