East Japan Earthquake    March 11, 2011

Numerous challenges present in relocating students from schools destroyed by tsunami

April 1, 2011

Schools were not spared from devastating damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake. While some survived the quake and tsunami, many are currently being used as evacuation shelters. With the new school year coming up, local education boards have found themselves up against numerous challenges. Of the 64 public elementary and junior high schools in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki, at least seven have been completely destroyed. The possibility of badly damaged schools renting space from schools with less damage is being deliberated, but the Ishinomaki education board isn't even sure that the less damaged schools are in good enough shape to use. At Watanoha Elementary School, where the ground floor was submerged in water from the tsunami, over 800 local residents are currently taking refuge, filling up all the classrooms and the gym. "We probably won't be able to use our facilities for class," a member of the school staff said with a resigned look. "We'll have to borrow space from nearby Mangokuura elementary and Mangokuura junior high." Thanks to its location, Mangokuura Junior High School did not suffer great damage, but there are around 700 evacuees staying there currently, living in even the music room and audio-visual language lab. However, the principal at the school says that if other schools ask to use their facilities for class, he will accept. While he predicts that many evacuees will leave the school and thereby open up classrooms when power and water supplies are restored to the community, he said, "We don't know when that's going to be." The Ishinomaki Municipal Board of Education has said that it will approach the schools' situations on a case-by-base manner, adjusting the schedules of individual schools to match their needs. It is currently looking into what schools and other public facilities in the area could be used until damaged schools are rebuilt. Meanwhile, the board of education in Miyagi Prefecture has set April 21 as the start date for the next school year, but it is clear that some schools will not be able to restart then. In the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minamisanriku, the entirety of which was subject to devastating damage, the education board decided on March 31 to push back the first day of the coming school year to early May. Togura Elementary School and Togura Junior High School, their facilities having been rendered unusable by the tsunami, will be transferring all school functions to the now-defunct Zennoji Elementary School in the neighboring city of Tome, while Natari Elementary school's functions will be relocated to Isatomae Elementary School. There are some cases in which families are requesting that their children be transferred to schools outside their prefecture. Out of approximately 1,200 residents of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, who evacuated en masse to Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, some 120 elementary and junior high school students will be transferring to local Kisai Elementary School and Kisai Junior High School. The remaining Futaba residents evacuated to various places on their own, but there is a chance that some will relocate to Kazo. City officials there say "we do not have the extra space or classrooms to accommodate large numbers, and have yet to solve the problem of how to deal with more people relocating to the city." Tokyo opened up one youth plaza each in Koto Ward and the city of Hachioji -- together holding a capacity of 374 people -- to elementary, junior high and high school students from disaster areas, and about 170 inquiries were made about the facilities. One second-grade boy from Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, who had evacuated to Tokyo with his mother, has moved into the center in Koto Ward, and is expected to start attending nearby Minamisuna Elementary School while his mother returns to Fukushima for work. A pair of sisters from Shirakawa, Fukushima Prefecture in first and sixth grades will also be living at the facility and attending the same school, away from their parents. Another important issue to confront is that children already traumatized by the disaster may suffer yet more stress if they are relocated outside their prefecture and have to live in a foreign place.(Mainichi Japan)

A sixth grader, Mirai Okuda, reacts following a graduation ceremony in the devastated city of Ishinomaki, Iwate prefecture, northeastern Japan, Thursday, March 24, 2011, after an powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated the area about two weeks ago. (AP)

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