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Fukushima loses first high school to meltdowns

Fukushima Minpo

A private high school in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, will close for good at the end of March because the nuclear disaster has decimated enrollment, school officials said.

Shoei High School, founded in 1957, will be the first in the prefecture to close its doors permanently since the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant began unfolding on March 11, 2011.

Although many schools in or near the radioactive 20-km exclusion zone around the plant have relocated in the hope of maintaining unity and continuity, Shoin Gakuen, which runs Shoei High, chose to recognize the obvious: the school is a financial dead-end.

“We don’t see any future prospects under the present situation brought about by the nuclear accident,” said Kazuhiko Sasaki, general affairs chief of Shoin Gakuen. “Despite many regrets, we decided to shut the school down at the executive board.”

Although the southern part of Minamisoma is in the 20-km hot zone and the school sits outside it, it is just 22 km away from the stricken nuclear plant.

Late last month, Shoin Gakuen submitted its plan for closing the school with the prefectural government, which approved it. But enrollment actually halted in the 2012 school year in light of its dim prospects for survival.

For Shoin Gakuen, the next step was obvious: Demand compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s owner.

Officials at Shoei High said they plan to negotiate directly with Tepco first, but if the talks bog down, are prepared to bring the matter to the government-run mediation center or sue Tepco in court for damages.

Founded in 1957, Shoei High School, the only privately run learning facility in the area serving Minamisoma and the adjacent town of Futaba, has produced more than 8,000 alumni to date. Another hundred were scheduled to enroll in April 2011.

After the disaster, about 40 of the 100 were enrolled in another senior high school run by Shoin Gakuen in the city of Fukushima. The rest were admitted to other schools around the prefecture.

Shoei High is not the only school with shortages. Eight public high schools in the area have failed to achieve their quota for new students in the past two years. Each school was forced to relocate by the nuclear crisis.

Under the rules set by the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education, a public high school that fails to meet half its student quota for three consecutive years must be closed temporarily.

Of the eight, five are in Futaba, which is south of Minamisoma but hosts the Fukushima plant in conjunction with the town of Okuma. Four of the five have missed their quota for two years in a row.

But education board officials said the schools will be considered exceptions because of the extreme circumstances caused by the meltdowns.

Meanwhile, the education authority in Futaba has drawn up a guideline for reorganizing its schools that revolves around a plan to create a new school by combining junior high and high schools.

The cost of the overhaul will be included in the prefecture’s fiscal 2014 budget, officials said.

The new step means the Fukushima education board will block new students from enrolling at the five high schools in Futaba and consider them “temporarily closed.”

This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published Nov. 29.