The education ministry has warned elementary schools nationwide to be on alert for traffic incidents as schools reopen following the full lifting of the country's coronavirus state of emergency last week.
Police are stepping up activities to watch over children walking to school or back home. "Traffic safety education should be provided also at home," an official said.
On May 15, the ministry sent boards of education and other authorities nationwide written requests that schools take action to secure the safety of children walking to and from school, stressing that special attention should be paid to first graders.
When schools reopened March 25 in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture, local volunteers and police officers stood along routes to the city's Ajioka elementary school to watch over pupils going to school together, telling them to cross streets carefully.
Usually, senior students walk with first graders, holding their hands. But now, all children form lines to avoid close contact and reduce the risk of coronavirus infection.
This new practice can be problematic, however. "If the lines become longer, it will be more dangerous to use crosswalks," said the school's principal, Toshiki Ando.
According to National Police Agency data, 3,276 elementary school children were severely injured, including some who died, in traffic accidents over the five years through 2018.
Of them, first graders formed the largest group, numbering 872. By month, the figure for first graders was highest at 109 in October, followed by 105 in May.
Elementary schools usually hold traffic safety lessons in April or May, just after the school year starts in April. This year, however, such lessons have not been held yet due to school closures across most of the country since early March amid the coronavirus outbreak.
A ministry official said that schools will still have traffic lessons although it is not easy to find the time to do so as annual school plans have already been fixed.
"It's important for guardians to teach their children traffic rules by walking together," an NPA official said. "It's also necessary for drivers to slow down when they spot children."
According to the education ministry, 98 percent of schools had reopened as of Monday.
Of the public schools that have reopened, 55 percent resumed lessons as usual, while 27 percent have adopted staggered attendance, with limited numbers of students attending classes at a time, and 17 percent have shortened class hours.
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