School offers hope to siblings afflicted by chemical allergies

Kyodo

Youngsters who suffer severe reactions to chemical substances present in everyday items inevitably face problems when it comes to their education.

Kitano High School in Osaka’s Yodogawa Ward aims to solve this problem, however, offering open-air evening classes to three siblings who suffer headaches and nausea when they come into contact with inks, hair lotions and building materials, among other things.

These individuals are Koji Irie, 20, Naoko Irie, 17, and Shigehiro Irie, 16, who developed their chemical allergies 10 years ago when the family moved to a new house.

“I would like to study harder so as not to come second to my brother and sister,” said Koji, who enrolled this spring, one year later than his brother and sister, returning to senior high school for the first time in about 4 1/2 years.

Before 4 p.m. on a fine day in late April, they sat at tables in the school’s courtyard, waiting to be taught about the Iraq situation by a teacher using copies of newspaper articles.

The teacher used a pencil instead of a pen, while the tables were wooden and unpainted.

The students’ textbooks, meanwhile, had been made specially for chemically sensitive people.

When the three siblings moved to a new house with their parents in 1994, they developed symptoms such as headaches, vomiting and eye pain. Three years later, all five members of the family were diagnosed as suffering from chemical reactions.

The three children attended a regular school, suffering reactions to substances such as hair lotions used by classmates, along with wax and other chemical substances at the school.

Yet teachers and classmates did not understand their predicament, and the three had to quit school.

Koji said that his teacher, who thought he was malingering by pretending to be sick, told him, “You lack the will to study.” He was also bullied by his classmates because of his condition, he said.

The three sought a school which would accept them, finding Kitano High School, which is run by the Osaka Prefectural Government.

Naoko and Shigehiro passed the entrance exams and enrolled in spring last year.

The outdoor lessons only last 30 minutes a day. But Principal Yoshitaka Nakagaki said that despite the short duration of the lessons, “They are quick to understand. There is no problem.”

Naoko and Shigehiro advanced to the second grade this spring.

Another school official said, “They used to be shy, but they have become able to express their opinions and have learned how to fit into society.”

A nonprofit organization in Yokohama devoted to helping those sensitive to chemicals said it has engaged in consultations over some 50 people who cannot attend ordinary schools because of this problem. It added that the number is increasing.

Taro Ajiro, the group’s secretary general, said the consultations are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“The reality is that there are differences (in how the situation is handled) depending on schools and teachers,” he said. “Some sort of guidelines from the central government are necessary.”