The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education Friday punished 33 public school teachers who refused to stand to face the national flag and sing “Kimigayo,” the national anthem, at March graduation ceremonies.

The penalties ranged from warnings to pay cuts and suspensions — depending on how many times teachers disobeyed orders from principals to honor the flag or sing the anthem.

In October 2003, the metro board of education issued an instruction to principals of metro-run schools, telling them to order all teachers and students to stand and sing the anthem at graduation and entrance ceremonies. It has since punished teachers who disobeyed.

Last spring, 63 public elementary, junior high or high school teachers were punished for disobeying the order at graduation and enrollment ceremonies in line with the law on local civil servants. The figure stood at 233 in spring 2004.

Kimiko Nezu, a home economics teacher at Tachikawa No. 2 Junior High School in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, did not stand at its graduation ceremony in March and was suspended for three months, the heaviest punishment given by the metro authority Friday.

When she refused to stand at the school’s graduation ceremony in March 2005, her salary was reduced 10 percent for six months.

Because she remained seated at the school’s enrollment ceremony the following month, the board suspended her for one month from May 28. Consequently she was denied her summer bonus because she was not working on June 1.

“I did not stand up because forcing students to rise without any explanation about the anthem is not what educators should do,” she said.

“I think teachers should be able to explain various views on the anthem, including (its link with Japan’s wartime militarism) and the education ministry’s views. And then children should be able to decide whether they want to stand.”

Currently such explanations by teachers can be seen as agitation to prompt students refuse to stand, and the teachers can be punished by the board of education, she said.

Despite the harsh punishments, Nezu said she will continue to refuse to stand as long as the board of education forces it.

Tokyo’s hardline attitude against teachers like Nezu came after the 1999 enactment of a law to recognize the Hinomaru as the national flag and “Kimigayo” (“His Majesty’s Reign”) as the national anthem.

The metro board of education has said academic guidelines set by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry stipulate that schools must put up the flag and teachers must instruct students to sing the anthem at ceremonies.

While some prefectural boards of education have stepped up pressure on teachers to stand to sing the anthem, Hiroshi Nishihara, a law professor at Waseda University, said punishing teachers who disobey is an abuse of freedom of thought and conscience.

“Children have the right to refuse to sing the anthem, as the (central) government said that it does not compel (them) to sing it under the (1999) law,” he said. “But forcing teachers to rise and sing the anthem means effectively forcing children (to do the same).”

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