Principal apologizes for letting students go to New York

by Minoru Matsutani

Takayoshi Maeda, principal of Senzoku Gakuen’s junior and senior high schools, apologized Thursday for letting a group of students go to New York, where two of them contracted swine flu, but said he thought he lacked the authority to cancel the special trip.

In all, the school sent six students and a teacher to attend the 10th Annual UNA-USA Model U.N. Conference in New York. The mock conference, which involved 2,600 high school students from about 100 countries, was organized by the United Nations Association of the United States of America, a nonprofit group that promotes U.N. activities in the United States.

The event ran from May 13 to Saturday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and U.N. headquarters in New York, where the new H1N1 virus is already spreading.

“All six students wanted to go, even though they knew the risk,” Maeda told The Japan Times on Thursday while apologizing for the public anxiety the female students’ illness have created since testing positive for the flu Wednesday night.

Before the trip, the school, in Takatsu Ward, Kawasaki, held a meeting May 2 with parents of five of the six students to confirm they wanted to let their children go to the U.S., Maeda said.

“All of them said yes,” he said, adding that the six were excited about the event and had spent a lot of time preparing over the past five months.

“If the event had been organized by our school, I may have canceled the trip,” he said.

The seven departed from Narita International Airport on May 11 and returned from New York on Tuesday. Maeda confirmed they went straight home without visiting the school because they were already scheduled to be absent upon their return for 10 days, which is the longest incubation period for H1N1, Maeda said.

The virus is being referred to locally as “shingata infuruenza” (new-type influenza), to avoid raising concern over the safety of pork.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said there is effectively no chance that the seven will transmit the virus to other students or teachers.

But the school will be closed anyway from Thursday to May 27 to prevent media coverage from creating further anxiety among neighbors and students, Maeda said.

The two teens reportedly had fevers last night but are recovering normally, with their body temperatures returning to normal, he added.

In the mock U.N. session, Senzoku Gakuen’s students teamed up with students from another country to act as Laotian delegates and discuss issues key to Laos, Maeda said.

Besides Senzoku Gakuen, five other high schools in Tokyo and in Kanagawa Prefecture participated in the event as representatives from Japan.

No students from those schools had reported any flu symptoms as of Thursday.

Some high school students in the vicinity of Senzoku Gakuen said they, too, would have seen the event as too good to pass up.

“I totally understand how much (the six students) must have wanted to go,” a 16-year-old male student at a nearby high school said, wearing a mask on his way home.

When asked if he would have gone if he had been selected, he said, “Of course I would have.

“Today is the first time I have worn a mask since swine flu was all over the news. My parents told me to wear it today,” the boy said. “I think the Japanese are overreacting. There is Tamiflu that cures (the flu) and there are no casualties yet.”