OSAKA – An elementary school at the center of an ongoing scandal being built on land acquired through a questionable deal with the central government will not open next month as scheduled unless additional documents are submitted by March 14, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui has said.
The school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, has been asked to submit to the prefectural government its plans for removing a large volume of earth containing old garbage at the school construction site in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, as well as on how it will finance the school.
The school project has drawn intense scrutiny in the Diet following the disclosure that Moritomo Gakuen purchased the land for the school from the government at a fraction of its appraisal price.
The school, which on its website calls itself the nation’s first Shinto elementary school, has also attracted attention for its ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
His wife, Akie, was the school’s honorary principal until stepping down recently. The school operator had sought donations by naming the school after Abe, although the name was eventually dropped.
Given the apparent links to the prime minister, the opposition has raised questions over possible involvement by Abe in the cut-price land deal, which he has denied.
Amid the controversy, the head of a council of experts that advises the governor on private schools in the prefecture indicated in late February that the local government would grant permission for the school to open in late March unless something untoward happened.
But since then, environmental concerns have mounted after a subcontractor said garbage unearthed from the site had been dumped into a hole at the same site during construction.
Matsui, the governor, has alluded to the possibility that the prefectural government may not grant permission for the school to open due to the potential health effects the garbage-tainted soil could have on pupils.
On Friday, prefectural officials interviewed Yasunori Kagoike, the top official of Moritomo Gakuen, and his wife, and decided that the school operator must submit the additional paperwork to the local government, including information about the number of pupils planning to attend.
Speaking to reporters in the city of Osaka on Saturday, Matsui said that unless the documents are submitted by the March 14 date, the school “won’t open on schedule.”
The prefecture’s advisory council is scheduled to convene March 23 to make a final decision on whether to allow the school to open in April.
The prefectural government said earlier that 40 children were expected to enroll at the school as first graders and five children as second graders.
If Moritomo Gakuen cannot secure permission to open, the children will likely go to public schools in their communities from April. But such arrangements must be made no later than March 28, according to the head of the prefectural board of education.
Moritomo Gakuen has obtained conditional permission to open the school.
The educational entity, based in the city of Osaka, has also faced criticism in connection with the kindergarten it operates in the city.
In January, prefectural officials questioned Kagoike and his wife, who are the principal and vice principal of the preschool, for suspected hate speech after it distributed to parents material disparaging Korean residents of Japan and Chinese people.
The opposition is calling for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to agree to summon Kagoike to face questions in the Diet over the land deal, but senior officials of the LDP and government have so far been reluctant.
“It’s practically illegal,” Democratic Party senior lawmaker Toshio Ogawa said Sunday during a TV program. “I’m suspecting the involvement of lawmakers.”
LDP lawmaker Masaharu Nakagawa, however, dismissed the allegation, saying the price tag for the land deal was appropriate.
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