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Hashimoto backs antibullying rules

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto plans to support two ordinance proposals that would establish an independent investigation team and give the mayor’s office more authority to look into incidents of school bullying and corporal punishment.

The proposals, which will be discussed by the municipal assembly this month, call for creating a team of lawyers, retired police officers, medical experts and others to look into school bullying and corporal punishment in Osaka-area schools at the behest of the mayor’s office.

A budget of ¥15 million has been proposed for the team’s creation, mostly for personnel costs, and the team would be established April 1.

The first proposed ordinance would allow PTAs to call on the team to conduct an investigation if they aren’t satisfied with the results of a school-led probe.

The second proposal would oblige school principals to cooperate with the investigative team if so ordered by the mayor or the municipal board of education.

If passed by the municipal assembly, where Hashimoto’s local Osaka Ishin no Kai and New Komeito hold sway, the ordinances would give whoever is in the mayor’s seat more direct authority to deal with allegations of bullying and corporal punishment.

Currently, such investigations are handled by the board of education, which is independent of the mayor’s office.

The proposals are the latest in a series of moves by Hashimoto to crack down on bullying and corporal punishment following the suicide of a second-year student at Sakuranomiya Senior High School in December.

The student, captain of the basketball team, killed himself after being repeatedly physically abused by his coach.

Hashimoto has already forced the board of education to cancel slots for sports majors at Sakuranomiya and merge them with general studies courses, and has continued to publicly speak out against bullying and corporal punishment, and the way schools handle such incidents.

Last week, he attended a lecture against corporal punishment in sports by former Yomiuri Giants pitcher Masumi Kuwata, who also played briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007.

Kuwata told the more than 500 municipal education officials in attendance that while playing in the U.S. he visited schools and saw that sports programs did not have corporal punishment, and that it was not needed to produce professional baseball players.

Public support for Hashimoto’s overall efforts to address bullying and corporal punishment remains strong, but there are concerns about how the ordinances would work in practice. The mayor’s office still wouldn’t be able to punish board of education members whose decisions it disagrees with. However, assembly members in the opposition parties have warned that the proposed changes would erode the board’s independence from elected politicians.