Slow response to bullying

The Shiga prefectural police on July 11 searched a municipal junior high school in Otsu and the city’s board of education office, suspecting bullying was behind the suicide of a student in October 2011. The rare move by the police underlines the seriousness of the case.

But all the parties concerned — the school authorities, the board of education and the police — have been very slow and sloppy in dealing with the case. The school and board of education must seriously reflect upon their actions and consider whether they are really qualified to be involved in education.

The 13-year-old, a second-year student at Ojiyama Junior High School, jumped to his death from a condominium in Otsu on Oct. 11. The Otsu Police Station determined that it was suicide.

From October to December, his father informed officers at the police station three times that there was a possibility that bullying was behind his son’s suicide. But the police would not do anything, saying it was difficult to determine facts related to the alleged bullying.

The search can be seen as a move by the police to save face. It was based on the suspicion that three male classmates of the boy bullied him during an athletic meet on Sept. 29, although that bullying incident had been mentioned in a document the boy’s family submitted to the police last year.

In mid-October, the school authorities had all students fill out a questionnaire survey regarding the student’s suicide. The board of education announced in November that although bullying had taken place, the cause and effect relationship between the bullying and the suicide could not be established.

Meanwhile, the school authorities carried out a second questionnaire survey on Nov. 1 at the request of the boy’s family. About 20 percent of the students responded. Although the board of education received a report from the school on the new survey in December, it made no announcement at that time.

It wasn’t until July 10 that the board finally announced that the Nov. 1 survey included statements that other students choked the boy in a “suicide exercise” and that a mock funeral was carried out for the boy. It explained that it did not notice the statements until July 6 because the school had said in its December report that nothing new had been found.

It is known that although the father had been informed of the Nov. 1 survey’s content and strongly requested the board to make the content public, the board did not act quickly.

This shows that both the school and the board did not act with sincerity to find out what was behind the boy’s suicide. Their inaction led to the cover up of a bullying incidence that might have caused the boy to commit suicide.

The education ministry has issued various manuals and instructions to cope with bullying. What is most important, however, is that teachers be given enough time to observe and interact with students so they can identify signs of possible bullying.