Students are not political pawns

Because of North Korea’s provocations following its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, the general affairs section of the board of education of Tokyo’s Machida City on March 27 made a unilateral decision — unknown to board members or the city assembly — to not provide personal safety alarms to students at a pro-North Korean school in the city.

After reports of the decision surfaced April 4, the board of education was inundated with protest telephone calls and emails, prompting it to reverse the decision. On Monday, the first day of the new school year, the board sent alarms to the Nishi-Tokyo Korean Second Elementary and Junior High School, where 68 students study.

Even if the decision was made without the knowledge of the city government and the members of the board of education, they must accept responsibility for the poor judgment shown by the general affairs section, which smacked of discrimination against students of the Korean school. The head and workers of the general affairs section should be disciplined for their actions.

According to the school, the general affairs section’s chief and other employees visited the school on March 28 and cited the current political situation and citizens’ feelings stemming from North Korea’s provocations as the reason for not providing alarms to its students. In doing so they demonstrated their complete failure to understand the principle that all students must be treated equally regardless of their nationality or ethnicity.

It should have been clear to them that punishing children in Japan for the provocative actions of Pyongyang is both utterly ludicrous and ethically repugnant.

In 2004, the board started providing safety alarms, each costing around ¥300, to first-year students of municipally run elementary schools. In a threatening situation, children activate the alarm, which sets off a loud noise to attract help.

The board has been giving out the alarms to students of private schools and the Korean school upon request. In February, the Korean school asked the board for 45 alarms.

After the board received more than 1,300 protest telephone calls and email messages, the board members held an emergency meeting and reversed the original decision by the general affairs section. They should be praised for their quick action to uphold the principle that it is the board of education’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all children living in Machida City. They also agreed that the general affairs section should have consulted with them before making its original decision.

What happened in Machida is part of a bigger, very disturbing trend that is sweeping the country. Several prefectural governments have stopped subsidizing pro-North Korean schools. On Feb. 20, the Abe administration excluded pro-North Korean high schools from the government’s tuition-waiver program. These decisions should be reversed. It is wrong to use children as political pawns, and doing so will only fan anti-Korean discrimination in Japan.