Photo/IllutrationYuko Okada, superintendent of the Yokohama city board of education, left, and other board officials apologize at a news conference in Yokohama on Feb. 13. (Koji Omori)

YOKOHAMA--The city education board here apologized for not taking claims of bullying seriously against a boy from disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture who was hit and derided by classmates as a "germ" because of the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The boy was in such torment that he considered suicide and resorted to stealing money from his parents in the hope that the violence would stop.

Initially, the board concluded that calling nicknames amounted to bullying but receiving money paid to appease the abusers did not constitute harassment.

“We wish to offer a fresh apology for failing to fully respond to the suffering of the child,” said Yuko Okada, superintendent of the city education board, at a Feb. 13 news conference. “We are very sorry.”

The boy was enrolled in an elementary school in Yokohama after his family moved to the port city on the outskirts of Tokyo in August 2011 following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March of that year.

Some classmates soon singled out the boy for harassment and attached “kin,” which means “germ,” to his name, insinuating that he was contaminated with radiation.

The verbal harassment, along with physical violence, continued. In May 2014, the boy paid the bullies 1.5 million yen ($13,275) to cover the costs of their outings to amusement parks, game arcades and other venues.

The boy is now a first-year junior high school student.

Okada's initial assessment of the case was based on the conclusions reached by a third-party panel last November.

The panel acknowledged that the name-calling was an act of bullying, but concluded taking money from the boy was misconduct that could later lead the abusers to commit a crime, rather than bullying.

The Feb. 13 news conference was held after a slew of complaints to the municipal board of education about its position.

A lawyer acting on behalf of the youth visited the Yokohama city government building the same day to hand a letter to the mayor, Fumiko Hayashi, from his client. In the letter, the teenager wrote: “Why does the board look at only part of the case, not the full picture?”

On the change in stance, Okada said the board decided to “give top priority to taking the boy’s feelings seriously.”

She also cited the panel’s finding that the boy paid money to his tormentors to stop the bullying.

In addition, she referred to the law to promote measures against bullying that went into force in 2013. The act of bullying is defined as one in which a victim feels a sense of suffering, regardless of the seriousness of and continuity of harassment.

After Okada issued her apology, the boy’s parents released a statement.

“We finally received an apology,” it read. “Soon after the report was released by the third-party, our son’s classmates who were harassing him, school officials and the education board should have apologized to us.”

(This article was written by Koji Omori and Minao Ota.)