Devastated parents of 74 confront Board of Education


Ookawa Elementary School after the tsunami. In the background is the alternative evacuation route located on higher ground.

TOKYO (majirox news) – Seventy-four children were swept away by Japan’s tsunami March 11 because teachers were discussing evacuation plans for 40 minutes on the playground of their elementary school in the city of Ookawa Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture in northeastern Japan. Two children survived because their parents picked them up during those 40 minutes.

The school received warning of the approaching tsunami by short wave radio immediately after the earthquake.

On June 4, about 70 angry parents confronted the City Board of Education at a meeting, demanding to know why it took 40 minutes after the earthquake to evacuate the children. The board said it took time to start moving because the teachers were taking roll and making plans.

Sayomi Shito, 45, who lost her 5th grade daughter, said time has stopped since the incident and that it should not have happened. “My daughter died because the school made a wrong decision,” she said. “Why did they do it? I can’t go ahead with my life until I find out. I have no intention of accusing the teachers, but we must know the truth, so the same kind of mistake will not happen again.”

The teachers assembled the children in the schoolyard immediately after the earthquake; they were still discussing the evacuation route as they led the children out of the school.

A father who lost his 6th grade son, said, “Who decided to hold the children on the school grounds for 40 minutes? The school officials have evaded explaining their actions.”

The board said that one of the alternative evacuation routes was located on higher ground about 200 meters behind the school. However, the teachers did not take that route because snow was still piled up, so it was slippery. In the event of another earthquake, they feared the trees might fall. They felt that route was too dangerous. The teachers chose another route, on a nearby high hill, Kita Kawakami, which required walking through a breakwater seawall. They never made it.

Only 10 minutes after they left school, the tsunami hit and swept them away. They had not even reached the seawall.

According to board members, this was the second time the group met; the first was May 31. The board said the teachers did the best they could given the circumstances and that therefore no more meetings are necessary. They told the parents at the meeting that they have said all there is to say.

“We had the first meeting because all the victims parents strongly requested it,” said a father who lost his child. “However, the school didn’t have any knowledge or information about what had happened to the children on that day.”

Another mother who lost her daughter, said, “The principal visited my house to pray for my daughter. It was about 40 minutes of silence (no talking). No apology or explanation of the incident.”

The parents are not satisfied with the board’s explanation. They still want to know who was responsible for holding the children that long.

The parents said this is a tragic no-win situation.

The Asahi Shimbun was a source

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One Response to Devastated parents of 74 confront Board of Education

  1. Casper on 06/07/2011 at 12:42 am

    It is sad that these children were lost. If I were one of the parents I probably would feel the same way. But, instead of everyone blaming each other for everything that happened (no one could ever have imagined that this would happen), they should work together to “heal.”

    They should realize that the teachers did what they thought was best for all the children at that time. So, the wrong decision was made – but at that time, they must have all agreed that it was the right decision. Remember, the ones who made that decision have to live with that guilt for the rest of their lives. Or if they all were swept away, too – they gave their lives for these children.

    The school board could say the same thing. If you were so worried about your children, why didn’t you pick up your children like the other two children that were picked up by their parents? If the teachers wanted to, they could have just ran and thought of themselves – but, they ended up giving their lives for these children. The teachers probably thought that the sea wall would hold. Sadly, it did not.

    Sad situation, it is definitely a “no-win” for either side – the parents lost their children and the school lost some of their teachers. The parents should remember that these teachers who lost their lives have families,too that are grieving.

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