All public high schools in Ehime Prefecture decided en masse to require advance notice from students who intend to participate in off-campus political activity, the prefecture’s board of education said Wednesday, though it has denied ordering the schools to do so.

The decision was made by each individual school, according to the board, and comes as Japan is set to lower the minimum voting age to 18 from 20 this summer. The requirement is sparking concern that it could deter students from taking part in events such as political rallies out of fear they would have to reveal their political beliefs to their teachers.

Such a move could further deepen political indifference among young people at a time when it is crucial for the country to raise political awareness in its youths ahead of the looming Upper House election this summer, experts say.

The education board said all 59 public high schools in the prefecture, including those for students with special needs, are scheduled to change their school regulations to introduce the system in the next fiscal year starting in April.

Although the education board denied it instructed schools to implement such a notification system, a handout given to the schools detailing ways to include such notification rules in their regulations appears to have heavily influenced the decision.

The handout, given to vice principals at a workshop last December, includes “examples” of new regulations such as a mandate that students must submit notice a week prior to taking part in political events away from school.

At the workshop, the school board also asked each school to report any such changes in their regulations.

Even though the school regulations are not legally binding, if students breach the rules they could face disciplinary measures such as suspension from school.

The education ministry said it thinks this is the first case of all public schools in a prefecture adopting the notification rule in unison.

Teruo Koike, a department chief with the Ehime Board of Education, denied pressuring schools, saying the board made it clear that it was up to each school to change its regulations as it sees fit, and that the handout was just an example in case they did decide to implement a notification system.

“We never instructed schools to introduce such regulations,” Koike said.

“It is our duty to secure students’ safety. There could be times when students participate in violent rallies or are absent from schools for a long period of time due to participation in political activities,” he said.

“Students could be dragged into trouble or die by taking part in some kinds of gatherings. If such things happened while a school had no clue where its students were or what kind of events they were participating in, then the school would be blamed.”

Last October, following the passage of a bill that takes effect in June and lowers the voting age to 18 from 20, the education ministry issued a guideline lifting the long-imposed ban on high school students engaging in political activity off campus and under certain conditions.

The guideline, which is also not legally binding, states that schools should restrict or seek to ban aggressive forms of political participation, and give instructions to students “to a necessary and reasonable extent” if their involvement and behavior are considered likely to interfere with schoolwork or affect other students.

In a handout the ministry issued in January to complement the guideline, it effectively gave permission to schools to implement rules requiring advance notice of students’ intent to attend political events.

Kaname Yamamori, an 18-year-old high school student in Saitama Prefecture, said such a move could prevent young people from becoming political aware before they even have a chance to begin.

“Some of my friends are starting to think it is necessary to think more about politics and society, given the right to vote (starting from the Upper House election in summer),” she told The Japan Times last week.

“But the notification system could make them refrain from participating in politics. It may give them the idea that joining a rally is a negative thing if it is something they have to notify schools about beforehand.”

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