Boy’s death on school’s locked bus a grim reminder to exercise caution

A recent tragedy in Nakama, Fukuoka Prefecture, can only be described as heart-wrenching. The cause of the incident must be identified so the knowledge can be used to prevent a recurrence.

A 5-year-old boy was found dead inside a school bus operated by a private nursery school in the city. It was determined that he died of heatstroke. The boy, who was picked up by the bus in the morning, is believed to have been left inside the vehicle for about nine hours.

The bus was driven by the director of the nursery school. After arriving at the facility, the director reportedly parked and locked the vehicle. She reportedly said that she was aware that the boy had gotten aboard the bus, but she believed that he had gotten off. On the day of the incident, temperatures in a nearby area climbed past 33 C.

No one can deny that 5-year-olds are adorable. Imagining what grief the boy’s family is feeling after seeing off their healthy child to the nursery school, only for him never to come back home, it is difficult to know what to say to them.

With no coworker riding the bus, the director allegedly failed to make sure that all the children had actually gotten off the vehicle. The teacher in charge of the boy realized that he had not shown up, but reportedly believed that he was merely absent for the day.

It is inevitable to suspect that this nursery school neglected basic day-to-day routines, such as conducting roll call and checking students’ attendance.

The prefectural police have searched the nursery school on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death. The prefectural government, which has the authority to issue licenses to childcare facilities, has conducted a special audit together with the municipal government based on the Child Welfare Law, among other legislation. The authorities should thoroughly look into the case to clarify why this happened.

In September 2017, a 3-year-old boy who attended a private kindergarten in Saitama City was left for about five hours inside its school bus. Fortunately, the boy did not suffer any health damage, but it was a dangerous situation that could have been much worse.

Just like the incident in Nakama, the driver and another staff member riding the bus in the Saitama case failed to confirm that all the children had actually gotten off the vehicle. The kindergarten reportedly considered the boy to be absent, because no one saw him.

In recent years, it has become more common for children to commute to nursery schools far away from home by using school buses, because they cannot go to facilities in their neighborhoods even though their parents wish for them to do so.

Nursery schools and kindergartens across the country need to check anew whether there are any problems with how they operate and manage their school buses. It is important for these facilities to carry out their duties while staying keenly aware that they are responsible for the lives of little ones.

In the past, a man with severe disabilities died of heatstroke after being left inside a vehicle operated by a facility for the disabled to transport its users. Even within families, there have been cases of young children losing their lives after being forgotten inside cars.

Severe heat continues across the country. It is important for every member of the public to remember that any carelessness by vehicle users can put someone’s life at risk.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 5, 2021.