OSAKA — The June 8 slaying of eight children at Osaka Kyoiku University Ikeda Elementary School shocked the nation.

Students of Osaka Kyoiku University Ikeda Elementary School hang a wreath of paper cranes on the school gate in memory of the eight children fatally stabbed June 8.

But the scale of the stabbing attack, in which 15 others were injured, has left teachers and mental health experts at a loss as to how to lessen the trauma.

Some experts are now discussing the lack of post-trauma care in the nation’s schools.

Ikeda Elementary School, which was to resume classes Monday, has postponed reopening until a date yet to be decided, as many teachers and pupils are not yet ready to return to the classrooms.

Although the school has decided not to use the classrooms where the stabbings took place, it remains to be seen whether the school community can return to life as normal once it reopens.

A medical team assigned to counsel victims and families told a news conference last week that it is too early to reopen the school, because the children and their parents are still traumatized and teachers are too exhausted.

The team, headed by Osaka Kyoiku University professor Naoyasu Motomura, has been visiting the homes of schoolchildren together with teachers since June 11 to gauge the pupils’ post-traumatic stress. A hotline was also set up at the municipal public health center.

From the home visits and calls to the hotline, children and their parents report headaches, sleeplessness and other symptoms of stress, as well as uneasiness and anger.

The tragedy has some experts calling for schools to introduce more comprehensive measures for safety and crisis management.

“In the United States, it is taken for granted that schools have their own crisis management measures,” said Tomoko Shimpuku, head of the Crisis Prevention Institute Inc. World Group, Japan, who said that ideally, a crisis control framework should be established within 72 hours.

The group is a U.S. private organization that provides training on managing disruptive and violent behavior for professionals in jobs with a lot of people contact.

Shimpuku called on Japanese schools to draw up manuals describing specific steps to be taken in crises, and to conduct simulations involving teachers and students.

If an incident occurs, schools should also cooperate with experts to help them quickly intervene and prevent further physical and psychological damage to the victims, she added.

For Ikeda Elementary School, remedial measures may have to come from the past experience of similar incidents in Japan.

When an intruder fatally stabbed a 7-year-old boy in front of his fellow pupils in the schoolyard of Hino Elementary School in Kyoto in December 1999, concerns were raised regarding the mental strain on the children.

Takuya Matsuura of the Kyoto Municipal Board of Education said two counselors were sent to the school the next day, and a consultation session was held for teachers.

A hotline was set up for students and parents and mental health experts were sent to their homes. The school also held parent discussion groups. A school counselor still visits once a week, Matsuura said.

“The incident at Ikeda Elementary School was far more serious than the Hino case, so the (Ikeda) children must be suffering from a great deal of stress,” he said. “I think it is desirable for the school to install a counselor as quickly as possible.”

An advisory body to the Kyoto Municipal Government, headed by Hayao Kawai, professor emeritus at Kyoto University, compiled a report a year after the Hino incident. Its suggestions included recruiting more school counselors and setting up a center to serve students and adults as well as to support the school counselors.

The city will set this up around March 2003, according to Matsuura.

But having a counselor on hand may not be enough, according to Hiroshi Kobayashi, a clinical psychiatrist at the Emotional Welfare Education and Counseling Center, a research institute run by the Hyogo Prefectural Board of Education.

“Most school counselors stay at a school once a week, so they have little idea about what is going on,” Kobayashi said. “Thus it is important to have school staff who can work as coordinators between the counselor and teachers.”

He also reckoned that counselors at elementary schools should be experienced in dealing with small children.

The center, which was set up in April 1998 and holds seminars for school counselors, will issue a handbook for teachers on dealing with crisis situations such as accidents and acts of violence.

But Kobayashi admitted that the incidents that have been occurring are far beyond what the center can cope with.

Matsuura from the Kyoto Municipal Board of Education said it is important to have local residents become involved with school activities to help protect children at school.

After the Hino Elementary School slaying, parents have been helping protect children through local patrols and other measures.

“It was great for the Hino school to have such strong support from the local community,” Matsuura said. “The involvement of local residents is an element that can further ensure children’s safety.”

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