• Kyodo

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The suicide in early July of an Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, board of education official who heard complaints from a school principal about 10 days before he hanged himself in March, is triggering a raft of complications.

Blamed for their suicides are hard work and agony amid intensified state guidance on school management. Deputy school board head Shokichi Yamaoka, 55, and Kazuhiro Keitoku, 56, principal of the public Takasu Elementary School, both had no educational experience before assuming their duties and found the guidance hard to follow, sources said.

Keitoku was treated at a hospital for “uneasiness” only one month after assuming the post in May last year, when his vice principal collapsed from fatigue. The vice principal’s successor also collapsed and was hospitalized.

Since then, Keitoku had met executives of the school’s parent and teacher association many times, complaining about the compulsory raising of the national flag and singing of the national anthem at the school. He was also under pressure to produce achievements as he had a private sector background. Before becoming an educator, Keitoku was a banker.

About 10 days before Keitoku’s suicide, PTA executives went to the municipal board of education and asked Yamaoka to transfer Keitoku to another post. Yamaoka had moved to the school board office in 2001 from the municipal office, where he was a section chief.

Several days later, Yamaoka told the executives that Keitoku’s transfer was being considered, but this information appeared not to be conveyed to the principal.

After Keitoku’s suicide, Yamaoka released a report about him on May 9. It said the municipal board’s support of him was insufficient and pointed to “bullying” by his school colleagues. “The principal’s authority was limited by teachers and other school staff,” the report said.

In June, the prefectural assembly’s education committee members visited the school to look into the alleged bullying.

Another assembly committee decided to invite teachers involved to an assembly meeting as witnesses.

Since that time, Yamaoka, who was busy meeting assembly members and reporters, rarely spoke to others, according to a municipal assembly member.

“In Hiroshima Prefecture, the bond between teachers and other school staff is strong, and there are strange arrangements with the education board,” a senior official of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said in Tokyo, without elaborating.

In 1998, the then Education Ministry asked the Hiroshima prefectural board of education to rectify school management and educational content. The ministry also told the board to raise the national flag and sing the anthem at school commencement and graduation ceremonies, as well as strictly promote managing teachers’ working hours.

In February 1999, the principal at the prefectural Sera Senior High School near the elementary school committed suicide after being involved in disputes over whether the anthem should be sung at the school’s graduation ceremony.

Since then, 122 elementary, junior high and high school teachers in the prefecture who opposed raising the flag and singing the anthem at graduation ceremonies have been punished.

The head of the municipal board of education was hospitalized June 20, and the next day, the prefectural education board made public a report saying Keitoku killed himself. The suicide was laid to the municipal education board’s refusal to accept a medical certificate saying he was suffering from depression and refused to give him a rest.

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