A city in western Tokyo is giving children frustrated by the pandemic a chance to unleash their pent-up enthusiasm and stifled enthusiasm by attending an Olympic torch relay ceremony held at a sanatorium for patients with AIDS. Meadow.
Schoolchildren in the city of Higashimurayama have seen many of their school activities canceled as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus in the capital.
But city officials have asked elementary and secondary school children to join in the ceremony to welcome the arrival of the Olympic flame on the evening of July 13.
Baffled teachers and parents questioned the city’s decision.
“Why the hell is there an exception in the case of the Olympics?” one of them asked.
City officials have insisted that attendance “is not mandatory.”
The torch ceremony will take place at Tama Zenshoen, a national sanatorium for leprosy patients, which has suspended annual school visits to avoid the risk of new coronavirus infections.
The event is hosted by the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. and end at 7:30 p.m.
According to the city’s initial plan, 2,000 to 3,000 schoolchildren would attend the Olympic torch ceremony.
But the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the city to halve the number of participants.
On May 31, principals of 22 primary and secondary schools in the city received a request from the Higashimurayama government to each select two children and their parents or guardians to attend the event.
The city explained that the ceremony will be an opportunity for children “to welcome together the arrival of the torch, to smile and reflect on the importance of human rights and the achievement of an inclusive society. “.
But many managers weren’t comfortable with the explanation.
A principal of a junior high school said discussions among educators about the invitation were like, “It’s difficult. What should I do? What will you do?”
The principal decided to inform all students in the school of the invitation because “some parents and students might be willing to attend as it is a once in a lifetime event”.
Noting that the torch ceremony falls under the “extracurricular activity” category, the principal said: “To participate or not to attend is up to the parents to decide. “
So far, 18 people at the school have said they want to attend. The director said there would be a lottery to select the participants.
Another school, using email, only informed parents of sixth-graders of the city’s invitation.
According to a school official, the email read, “This request came from the city. It is the parents’ choice whether or not to attend the event. School has nothing to do with it.
The school recently selected the participants in a drawing.
Another primary school principal said the school declined the invitation.
“Initially, we thought we had to select the participants,” said the director. “But then we heard from the city that it wasn’t mandatory. We saw a risk of infections, as well as a problem in the selection process. After discussing it with the teachers, we declined.
Parents and teachers have also raised questions about the city’s decision.
A 38-year-old woman said her child’s primary school canceled or suspended many school activities for safety reasons.
“It’s not that‘t it makes sense that only the torch relay event gets the OK, ”she said.
She also expressed fears that the virus could spread during the torch welcoming ceremony.
“What if it becomes a cluster of infection?” They can’t just say, “We don’t know” because they are calling for participants in schools. “
Another 34-year-old mother, whose child attends college in the city, expressed mixed feelings.
“My kid wants to go, but I don’t know what kind of event it will be. I’m afraid the bus home is really crowded, ”she said.
Hiromichi Miyazawa, who teaches at a public primary school in Higashimurayama, said, “The city has not yet informed the schools about the safety measures, so I cannot take responsibility for the teacher who has the lives of children in between. my hands.
As part of a school activity, upper class students from Miyazawa School visit Tama Zenshoen to learn about human rights issues by listening to people who have been cured of leprosy.
But in the past year or so, the sanatorium has had to suspend these visits due to the pandemic.
“We canceled travel classes, school trips and social studies excursions, preventing children from participating in many activities,” Miyazawa said. “How can we tell them that we will make an exception, just this time, for the Olympic torch event?”
A city official insisted that COVID-19 preventive measures will be in place during the ceremony, such as asking attendees to wear masks, use hand sanitizers and have their body temperatures checked.
“If many parents are worried and no one wants to attend, then it is not an obligation for schools to select the participants,” said the official.