Recognition of bullying should not have been so late in coming

There must have been many opportunities to suspect bullying. Many questions remain as to why the school did not listen to heartrending pleas.

Regarding a second-year female junior high school student who was found frozen to death in March last year in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, the local board of education acknowledged at the end of this March that bullying had occurred and apologized to the bereaved family.

Initially, the board had denied there was any bullying, but after receiving the results of a third-party committee’s investigation, it reversed course and admitted it had occurred, three years after the girl’s mother first complained of bullying. It must be said that the school and the board were extremely dishonest in their response.

What in the world were the homeroom teachers, the principal, the assistant principal and the board officials in charge of the case doing?

From April 2019, shortly after entering the junior high school, the student experienced bullying such as from upperclassmen demanding that she send them sexual videos of herself. In June that year, after being teased by upperclassmen, she called the school to complain and said, “I want to die,” before plunging herself into a river.

In the wake of this incident, the school interviewed the upperclassmen, but did not ask the girl herself what was going on, and determined that it was not bullying. The girl’s mother said that she frequently talked to the school, but they kept denying that the girl was being bullied.

The girl later transferred to another junior high school, but went missing in February last year and was found frozen to death in a park in the city the following month. The bereaved family claims that the bullying drove her to commit suicide.

It was too tragic an ending. It is heartbreaking to wonder why the worst was not prevented.

The Law for the Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying defines as “serious situations” cases in which bullying is suspected of causing serious damage to a child’s life, mind or body, and obliges boards of education and schools to investigate.

It was not until April of last year, after the female student’s death, however, that the city’s board of education recognized the situation as serious and decided to establish a third-party committee. The Hokkaido Board of Education had twice instructed the city’s board to check the facts, but the city’s board simply believed the school’s report and did not reinvestigate the case.

A municipality’s board of education and schools reciprocally transfer personnel to and from each other. If the shared sense of close ties has led them to be lax in their response, that is a problem.

In recent years, the number of bullying cases recognized has been on the rise as awareness has spread of the need to keep an eye on bullying at an early stage. Nevertheless, there are still many educational institutions that are reluctant to admit bullying has occurred due to a tendency to do anything possible to avoid complications.

What is needed in dealing with bullying is a willingness to listen and be present for the victim. Educational institutions should once again reflect on the importance of detecting signs of bullying at an early stage and responding promptly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 16, 2022)