Police have arrested three teachers at a kindergarten in central Japan on suspicion that they routinely abused young children, including hitting them on the head, holding them upside down and locking them in a bathroom, in a case that sparked outrage and allegations triggered a cover-up.
Shizuoka Prefectural Police said they arrested three women on Sunday on suspicion of assaulting at least three children at a kindergarten in the town of Susono at the foot of Mount Fuji in June.
Susono Mayor Harukaze Murata told reporters Monday he had also filed a criminal complaint against the school’s principal, Toshihiko Sakurai, for allegedly covering up the abuse. He urged the police to expand their investigation.
In one case in June, one of the teachers is accused of holding a boy upside down. Another teacher punched a girl in the face, police said, and the third punched another boy on the head.
Their arrests followed a police search of the private school on Saturday in response to the city’s revelation last week of 15 alleged abuses between June and August.
The results of an internal investigation revealed that the three teachers routinely abused young children in their care, including slapping them on the face and head, forcing them to cry, threatening them with a utility knife, and berating the children, calling them “ugly” and ” called “fat”. locking them in a restroom or storage room, the city said.
Murata accused the principal of “covering up” the abuses by getting other teachers to sign a paper asking them to hide the problem and delaying an explanation from parents, citing his handling of the issue “disgusting”.
The three teachers, all in their 30s, reportedly told investigators their treatment of the young children was “discipline,” while the principal said he only had the document signed to protect the privacy of those involved and denied trying to cover up the abuse.
The city has been publicly criticized for sitting on the case for more than three months since a whistleblower first came forward in mid-August to uncover “inappropriate” cases at the school. Murata said he takes the criticism seriously and will take a pay cut for two months while punishing three senior officials.
Separate investigations into possible abuse are underway in two other kindergartens.
In Sendai, northern Japan, officials are conducting an internal investigation after allegations that children were required to strip down to their underwear during mealtimes to avoid soiling their clothes. At another school in the northern city of Toyama, police are investigating teachers on suspicion of locking crying children in a storage facility or stabbing them in the back with a stick to order them to move.
Experts say kindergarten teachers are typically poorly paid and schools face chronic staff shortages and a tough work environment.