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August 24, 2020

Schools in Japan with infection clusters battered by abusive phone calls, online posts

August 23, 2020 The Yomiuri Shimbun

Schools whose students have been infected with the novel coronavirus in clusters via club activities are under attack by a flood of defamatory phone calls and online posts.


While schools are required to take sufficient measures to prevent a further spread of the virus, there are concerns that students’ mental health could be adversely affected after being exposed to such criticism. Taking this into consideration, experts are calling for people who are increasingly frustrated with the pandemic to avoid using these students as scapegoats.


Rissho Shonan High School, a private school in Matsue, has received more than 80 phone calls criticizing the school and verbally abusing its students — such as “Get out of Japan” and “Destroy the school” — since Aug. 9 after about 100 people, mainly members of the soccer club, were infected with the virus.


The cluster is believed to have occurred at a dormitory where many club members were living together. The school apologized at a press conference, saying the school’s preventive measures were insufficient. It also stressed that the students were not at fault.


However, the school’s official blog, which introduces student activities, became the target of criticism. A flood of criticism targeted an outdoor photo of the soccer club’s members congratulating the baseball team for finishing second in the Shimane Prefecture tournament held in July and August. Some were bashing it with comments like, “They are spreading the virus without wearing masks.”


The school removed the photo from the site, citing that individual students could be identified in it, but it further went viral after it was reported by some TV programs.


In response, the Shimane prefectural government on Aug. 21 took the unusual step of reporting to the Matsue District Legal Affairs Bureau about more than a dozen sites on which the photo had been posted without permission, citing “a possible violation of human rights” and requesting that the photo be removed.


Concerned about the students’ mental and physical health, the school asked the Shimane Prefecture society of certified clinical psychologists for help. The society has so far received consultations from about 50 students, some of who have difficulty sleeping.


School-related clusters have also occurred at Tenri University’s rugby club, Nippon Sport Science University’s wrestling club and at Omuta High School in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture.


The Mie Prefectural Board of Education has taken its own initiatives to protect students from acts of slander and libel and human rights violations. The board commissioned a specialized company in mid-May and has since been monitoring if there are any defamatory posts and the like online against people infected with the virus and others affected by the pandemic.


If there are defamatory messages posted online with the names of public elementary and junior high schools or prefectural schools, the board will contact each school and ask them to deal with the posts.


The board has so far confirmed some posts with comments like: “I’m scared as I live close to the school where an infection case was confirmed.”


“We’d like to protect the students from defamatory acts by promptly cooperating with the schools,” said a school board official.


Japan soccer star Honda sends encouragement to cluster-hit high school soccer club


Questions have been raised among professional athletes about the tendency to bash students infected with the novel coronavirus, their schools or others around them.


Former Japan international soccer player Keisuke Honda sent words of encouragement via Twitter to the soccer club members of Rissho Shonan High School in Matsue, where about 100 infection cases have been confirmed.


“My message to the members of the high school soccer club is, ‘You don’t have to apologize for anything just because you were infected with the virus,’” Honda wrote. “I wish you work hard toward your dream again after you get well.”


Yasushi Fujii, an associate professor of Meisei University and clinical psychotherapist, thinks those making the disparaging comments are taking their accumulated frustration amid the pandemic out on infection clusters, an easy-to-grasp target of attack.


“Students can feel that their personality has been entirely denied should they be denied from their school club activities,” Fujii said. “The impact of easy and rough criticism should be thought about since it could be traumatic.”