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Sunday, July 22, 2012
Signs of bullying go unheeded
The suicide of a 13-year-old junior high school boy in Otsu in October 2011, apparently due to bullying, has shocked the nation. The bereaved family of the boy, who jumped to his death on Oct. 11 from his family's condominium, has filed a ¥77 million compensation lawsuit against the Otsu city government.
The city at first denied a relationship between the boy's suicide and bullying. But on July 17, the city expressed its readiness to start talks to reach an amicable settlement with the family because of the possibility that such a relationship existed. Mayor Naomi Koshi expressed her apology at the city office to the boy's family.
It has now surfaced that there were clear signs that the boy was being bullied. The question is why teachers did not take proper action immediately to help the boy.
According to the school principal and the city's board of education, six days before the boy's suicide, the homeroom teacher was notified by a student that the boy was being bullied in a toilet, and was being struck with more punches than the student fighting him. The teacher later asked the boy what happened, and he replied that it was a fight but that he wanted to get along with the other boy. The teacher also asked the other boy what happened.
The teacher then consulted with several other teachers. It was pointed out that the other boy was stronger and might be inclined to bully. But the teachers concluded that the fight did not look like a case of bullying and agreed to watch the situation carefully.
This consultation among teachers lasted only about 15 minutes. The homeroom teacher did not question in detail the student who reported the toilet incident.
As the school principal admitted in a July 14 news conference, the homeroom teacher's questioning of the students was insufficient. The teacher forgot to ask the student who reported the toilet incident an important point: Why did he think that the boy was being bullied?
The teachers failed to follow the lessons of past bullying cases that if they receive any information whatsoever hinting at bullying, they should thoroughly investigate the situation.
The principal held an appallingly late news conference — deciding to do so only after the police searched the school on July 11. This kind of behavior only deepens the suspicion that the school wanted to hide critical information. It wasn't until July 13 that the city made public the results of two questionnaire surveys conducted at the school after the boy's suicide.
The board of education did not carry out a thorough investigation to determine what facts related to the possibility of bullying, despite a number of descriptive responses in the surveys hinting that the victim had been bullied.
At the very least, a truly independent third-party investigation should take place to determine exactly what transpired and what the school and board did wrong so that similar tragedies will not take place.