Iwate: Students use evidence to amend high school rules

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left, Ayaka Iwama, Sakura Takahashi and Koyuki Nakamura discuss their school’s regulations at Otsuchi High School in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, in January.

OTSUCHI, Iwate — Students at an Iwate Prefecture high school long known for its strict code of conduct have been using an evidence-based approach to get the school to loosen its stranglehold on their behavior.

The prefectural-run Otsuchi High School launched the student-led initiative in 2020 in part to make the area more hospitable to students as fewer and fewer younger people have been sticking around to call the city home. Only about 150 students attend the high school.

Members of the initiative have held discussions aimed at amending the school’s draconian uniform and hairstyle rules.

Second-year student and senior member of the initiative Ayaka Iwama used to listen to her older sister’s horror stories about how the school treated students while she was enrolled there.

Courtesy of Otsuchi High School
A member of the committee on the school’s code of conduct speaks during a meeting with teachers.

“Her stories made me feel bad,” the younger Iwama said.

According to the older sister, the school’s code of conduct stipulated that school uniform skirts had to cover the knees. In order to enforce the rule, teachers rounded up the female students once a month, made them stand on their knees in the gymnasium and then checked whether their skirts touched the floor.

At the initiative’s first meeting in May 2020, members wrote down on a large sheet of paper what they thought of the regulations.

“I don’t like them demanding that our socks cover our ankles,” one member wrote.

“We should be able to decide the color of our undershirts,” wrote another.

Many members wrote that they wanted “two-block,” a popular hairstyle for young men, to be allowed.

However, some teachers opposed the idea of permitting the hairstyle, which is cut short on the sides and left a little long on top, saying students with two-block haircuts while job hunting would leave negative impressions on their prospective employers.

Not ready to back down, the initiative’s members conducted a survey by visiting local companies and found that most of the firms held the hairstyle in a positive light. While some firms said that they did not mind the hairstyle at all, others held a preferential view of students who had the hairstyle.

Three months after the initiative’s initial discussions, the school lifted its two-block ban. The monthly routine of checking how properly students were dressed was subsequently discontinued as well.

Many students returned to school after the summer break sporting the once-prohibited hairstyle, according to Koyuki Nakamura, a second-year student who helped conduct the survey.

“They looked happy,” she said.

Ichiro Kumagai, a teacher at the school, said his colleagues “were able to agree with lifting the ban as students presented evidence to support their arguments.”

Sakura Takahashi, another second-year student and initiative member, wants to introduce gender-free protocols for the school uniform so that anyone can wear pants if they want to.

Iwama said: “We’ve raised questions about the [school’s] current regulations without taking them for granted. I believe such experiences will help us when we enter the workforce.”