Parents not told of intruder in school: Japan

JAPAN - An unknown man had earlier trespassed into the Tokyo primary school where a knife attack took place last month, but the incident was not reported to students' families or local residents, according to school and police sources.

Three students at Oizumi Daiichi Primary School in Nerima Ward were injured in the June 28 attack by a 47-year-old man whose name has not been disclosed by police. According to police sources, a man witnesses believe was the June attacker entered the school grounds at about noon on May 30.

As he complained about the noise from children practicing for an athletic meet, the Nerima Ward Board of Education and the school decided he should not be treated as a suspicious person. He left after being told by teachers to go.

Some parents, however, are not satisfied with the school's handling of the incident, as the man was reportedly shouting such things as "Children will be murdered" and mumbling as he walked around the school premises.

The school established a system in November 2011 to alert parents through e-mail about suspicious people trespassing on school premises or roaming around school-designated routes for children's commutes. So far, parents have been alerted on 10 occasions. The school reported the May incident to the ward education board and police but decided not to inform parents.

The ward office has a similar system to contact local residents, but the ward education board did not inform the section in charge of sending e-mails to residents of the May trespassing.

In another incident, a father who was walking with children to nearby Yasaka Primary School in the ward was assaulted on June 24, four days before the knife attack. Because the victim was an adult, however, residents and parents were not alerted in that case, either. According to witnesses, the attacker resembled the suspect in the knife assault.

Moves to secure the safety of schoolchildren began in earnest across the nation after the knife attack on Ikeda Primary School in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, in June 2001, in which eight children were killed. Most schools now have security cameras, give personal alarms to students and share information with parents about suspicious people.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and the National Police Agency have urged schools, police, parents and local residents to share what may be signs of later crimes. But there is no clear yardstick as to what kinds of information should be shared.

Oizumi Daiichi Primary School and the ward education board maintain that their handling of the May incident was appropriate. But some parents disagree.

"Parents would be devastated if they found out that there were indications their children could be attacked," said a woman whose child attends Oizumi Daiichi Primary School. "A man uttering incomprehensible words and acting strange entering the school is a grave problem. The school should have responded with alarm."

Since education minister Hakubun Shimomura announced last week that the ministry had issued a notice to the prefectural boards of education to share information on suspicious persons with parents, local residents and police, the Nerima Ward Board of Education has been reviewing its information sharing system.

"We'll advance discussions on the range of information to be shared and the establishment of an appropriate information sharing system," a board representative said.

Naho Kiyonaga, the representative of Taiken-gata Anzen Shien Kiko, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organisation for promoting safety education, said there should be clear yardsticks for sharing information.

"Without guidelines for sharing what could be indications [of crimes], I think similar cases of poor communication may occur," Kiyonaga said. "The central and local governments must present standards for judgement, tailored to each community. It's essential for schools, families, communities and police to act together by raising and lowering the alert levels based on shared information."