“I don’t understand the meaning behind giving a gold star to what my daughter wrote when she was feeling distressed. The phrase written means ‘You can do it.’ The moment I saw the notebook, I was filled with anger.”
The parents of a fifth-grade girl, A (11), who attends an elementary school in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, was the victim of bullying at school.
A struggled to receive appropriate support from the school and, feeling distressed, wrote in their self-study notebook (an exchange notebook with the teacher), “It was pitiful” and “I should just die.” The homeroom female teacher then marked it with a gold star and wrote, “You can do it!!” (as shown in the above photo). This became a major issue after the Nara City Board of Education published an investigation report in December last year.
The incident dates back to 2021. At that time, A, who was in the third grade, began experiencing bullying from another student, B, in the same class. (Note: Statements without a disclaimer are from A’s parents.)
“My daughter started to report incidents of being harmed by B-kun, and the frequency of these incidents increased over time.”
“The bullying that A endured from B-kun, as determined by the investigation, amounted to as many as 11 incidents. Alongside physical violence such as twisting and pushing hands, and poking the back with a pencil, verbal abuse like ‘Remember this’ was also used. In such circumstances, in February 2022, an incident occurred where A was kicked in the leg.”
“When my daughter went to the back of the classroom to get her school bag, B-kun kicked her right leg. Her shin was bruised and turned blue, so we obtained a medical diagnosis from the hospital. What’s worse is the school’s response. Despite having witnesses, when we asked the principal to investigate, they said, ‘B-kun denies kicking her. The school is not the police,’ and tried to avoid responsibility. We had no choice but to file a report with the Nara Nishi Police Station. B-kun’s bullying was recognized, and the police notified the child consultation center.”
“I wrote it because you asked me to.”
However, B-kun’s attitude remained unchanged, and the school still did not recognize the bullying. The gold star was added to A’s self-study notebook immediately after she began saying, “I don’t want to go to school.”
“Female teacher C, who was the homeroom teacher, was strict in her guidance and would sometimes scold my daughter harshly. With the added pressure of B-kun’s situation, my daughter wrote ‘I should just die’ in her self-study notebook in June of that year. Teacher C marked that notebook with a gold star and wrote ‘You can do it’ in English. Teacher C tried to excuse herself by saying to the school, ‘I wrote it because A asked me to.’ However, my daughter did not ask for such a thing. Even if she had, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to write such a message (Teacher C went on sick leave before the start of the second semester).”
The school’s ruthless response continued after that.
“I once asked the principal how they viewed the bullying towards my daughter. The response I got was ‘No comment.’ Feeling unsatisfied with this, I sought legal advice, and finally, in November, the school recognized the bullying as a ‘serious situation.’ However, we still haven’t received a formal apology from the school. My daughter’s appetite has decreased, and she started waking up in the middle of the night. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, from January 2023, she had to miss school for almost two months. We want the school to correct their misguided response. Without that, my daughter, who is now in fifth grade, still cannot attend school with peace of mind due to her unstable symptoms.”
The elementary school and the Nara City Board of Education, in response to FRIDAY’s inquiry, stated, “We take seriously the fact that it has caused significant mental distress to the child who was bullied and their parents.” They further mentioned their commitment to reviewing the school organization to prevent bullying and ensure it is not overlooked in the future.
Kazushi Mitsuhashi, an attorney who represented Mr. A and is well versed in bullying issues, pointed out that:
“At the time when A-san was continuously bullied, the school did not acknowledge the bullying and did not see A-san as a victim. Despite the fact that A-san was clearly suffering psychological damage and needed support, the school’s response was malicious. Many of the teachers and education officials on the ground are not familiar with the content of the laws and policies regarding bullying prevention, so they are not adequately addressing troubles that occur in the educational setting.”
It’s only natural for A-san’s parents to be furious at the school’s attitude, which tramples upon A-san’s heart.
From the February 2 and 9, 2024 issues of FRIDAY
Reporting and writing： Masayoshi Katayama (Journalist)