The Yomiuri Shimbun
Drawing lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake, an increasing number of schools are considering keeping students at school instead of letting them go home to keep them safe in the event of a similar disaster.
All train services were halted for several hours in the Tokyo metropolitan area after the March 11 earthquake, preventing many parents from returning home and leaving them unable to confirm the safety or whereabouts of their children.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to have an expert panel, which was launched in July, make new guidelines covering when students should be returned to parents in such situations.
On Aug. 26, municipal Takashima Daiichi Primary School in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, conducted a disaster prevention drill on the premise that an earthquake measuring lower 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 had hit the area. Part of the drill involved parents coming to the school to pick up their children.
Mizuho Wakabayashi, 40, who came to pick up her 10-year-old daughter, Satsuki, said, "It's important to learn through drills like this so I won't panic when a real disaster strikes."
After the March 11 earthquake, the school's principal, Yoshiaki Yazaki, decided to let students go home in groups because no buildings had collapsed and there was no serious damage nearby.
However, many parents later complained about Yazaki's decision.
"Why didn't the school keep students there?" asked one. Another said, "When I got home, my child was crying."
More parents had great difficulty getting home from work than Yazaki had predicted.
"We failed to make preparations from the perspective of our students and their parents," he said.
In July, the school notified parents it will take care of students until parents come to pick them up if an earthquake of lower 5 or stronger on the Japanese scale occurs.
Even after an earthquake measuring 4 or less disrupts public transport systems in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the school will look after students whose parents have registered in advance.
Parents of about 160 students at the school have registered.
According to a survey by the Tokyo metropolitan board of education, 52.7 percent of primary schools and 12.3 percent of middle schools of Tokyo's 1,900 primary and middle schools kept an eye on students after the March 11 quake.
In July, the metropolitan board of education instructed the schools to, in principle, care for students after a disaster until parents come to pick them up.
The Yokohama municipal board of education also revised the city's disaster-management plan for schools.
The new plan stipulates that if public transportation systems shut down, schools should keep students until parents pick them up.
But some parents may be unable to come to school and some children could have to stay at school overnight. This raises the question of what food and other supplies schools should keep on hand.
Tokyo metropolitan high schools stock enough water, food, blankets and other emergency goods to last three days. However, what supplies primary and middle schools should stockpile is left to individual ward, city, town and village governments. Some principals have suggested their schools do not have enough emergency supplies.
According to a survey by Tokyo Shiritsu Shoto-gakko Kyokai, an association of 54 private primary schools in Tokyo, a total of 1,123 students at 28 member schools spent the night at school after the March 11 quake because they could not get home.
At Keio Yochisha Primary School in Shibuya Ward, 23 of the 852 students took shelter at the school overnight after the March quake.
"We realized anew that it's safer to keep the kids at school rather than force them to go home," an official of the school said.
The school is reviewing what emergency supplies it will store.
(Sep. 3, 2011)