Criminal complaint filed against Japan nursery school director over alleged abuse

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Susono Mayor Harukaze Murata, right, heads to the Susono Police Station to file a complaint against the Sakura nursery school in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Monday.

SHIZUOKA — A criminal complaint was filed Monday against the director of a private nursery school in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, on suspicion that he shielded the perpetrators of abuse against children at the facility.

The city government took the action after it was learned that the Sakura nursery school headed by Toshihiko Sakurai, 53, made its employees sign a written pledge not to reveal any confidential matters or other information obtained during the course of their work.

According to the complaint, Sakurai may have been aware of abusive acts by three former teachers, including grabbing a child by the leg and hanging him in midair, when he had employees sign the pledge in late October.

“This is not simply a matter involving the three people [who were arrested],” Susono Mayor Harukaze Murata said at a press conference. “It’s horrible that the director, who is in a position of responsibility, intentionally tried to cover it up.”

The nursery school has told the city that the pledges were not intended to cover up the truth, but to prevent the dissemination of personal information about the children and photographs of them.

Three former teachers — Sachi Miura, 30; Kaori Komatsu, 38; and Rie Hattori, 39, who were in charge of a class of 1-year-old children — were arrested Sunday on suspicion of strongly pressing a girl’s face, hanging a boy upside down, and hitting another boy on the head.

The three were referred to the Numazu branch of the Shizuoka District Public Prosecutors Office on Monday.

According to the city government, 15 abusive acts are confirmed to have been committed by the three women, such as locking a child in a storage area and verbally abusing a child with such words as “ugly” and “fat.”

They are believed to have started abusing children in June at the latest and to have continued until a whistleblower alerted the city in August. The three reportedly told the nursery school that they were trying to discipline the children.

On Saturday, the Shizuoka prefectural and Susono city governments conducted a special audit based on the Child Welfare Law and other regulations. The prefectural police have searched four related locations, including the nursery school, on suspicion of assault, and are examining seized documents to uncover the full picture of the incident.

Courtesy of the Susono city government
A written pledge signed by an employee of the Sakura nursery school

Delayed response

The prefectural police swiftly arrested the three former teachers, but the Susono city government and the nursery school did not respond promptly to the alleged abuse. The city and the facility became aware by late August of suspicions that the teachers had assaulted children, but they did not publicly disclose the matter until the end of November.

It has also been revealed that the nursery school made its employees sign a written pledge not to speak out about the problems, and that both the city and the nursery school failed to take action for about two months. Distrust toward the city and the nursery has grown among parents.

According to the city government and the nursery school, a person close to the school informed the city on Aug. 17 about “inappropriate childcare practices.” The school told the city on Aug. 22 that three teachers had admitted the allegations and submitted a report on its probe three days later. On Sept. 9, two of the teachers were urged to resign and one was censured.

However, neither the city nor the nursery school disclosed this matter to the public. These two parties reportedly did not even communicate about the case for about two months from late September.

On Nov. 29, the nursery school held a meeting in which the problems were explained to parents for the first time. The following day, the city held a press conference to make public the alleged abuse.

Murata apologized, saying, “The city should have made an announcement when it became aware of the problems.”