Photo/IllutrationWago Park in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture. A first-grader at Umetsubo Elementary School in the city died of heatstroke after visiting the park on July 17. (Tsuyoshi Sato)

  • Photo/Illustraion

TOYOTA, Aichi Prefecture--Education officials here apologized for a 6-year-old elementary schoolboy’s death from severe heatstroke July 17 after he took part in a school outing that morning.

“A precious life has been lost at school and we apologize for that,” said Takashi Yabushita, principal of the city-run Umetsubo Elementary School, and Naoki Suzuki, an official with the municipal board of education, at a news conference that evening.

The boy, a first-grader, was one of 112 children who went out to Wago Park, about 1 kilometer from the school, in the morning as part of an outdoor activity lesson.

The boy lost consciousness after they returned to school. He was rushed to a hospital by ambulance, but doctors pronounced him dead shortly afterward.

Three girls also complained of being sick after the trip, according to the officials.

The children, from four classes in the first grade, left the school at around 10 a.m. to walk to the park, where they caught insects and played on the playground equipment.

The pupils returned to the school at around 11:30 a.m.

About 20 minutes later, a homeroom teacher noticed the boy’s lips were discolored. He lost consciousness soon after.

The officials said that the student did not have a pre-existing condition, and he did not complain of feeling unwell when the children were asked prior to their outing.

But the boy did begin complaining of being “tired” when the group was heading to the park, and he lagged behind the other children.

The homeroom teacher, who is in her 20s, noticed the boy falling behind and led him by the hand while saying to him, "Let's keep going."

The temperature was 32 degrees in the school grounds when teachers measured it before the trip.

Teachers were aware of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s high temperature alert that day, with the highest temperature forecast to hit 35 degrees or above. The agency issues a warning when the temperature is forecast to rise to 35 degrees or higher to sound the alarm for potential heatstroke.

At the news conference, Yabushita defended the school’s decision to proceed with the excursion to catch insects in the summer.

“But we are keenly aware that our judgment was too lax, given how things turned out,” he said, choked with emotion.

The officials said teachers instructed children to make sure they drank enough water during the outing.

Although Suzuki pledged to “take measures to prevent a recurrence,” he also said it was practically impossible to cancel all school events after the warning was given.

“I would like to instruct teachers to take sufficient safety precautions as a first step,” he said.

Masuji Hattori, a professor at Hyogo College of Medicine’s pediatric department, who is well-versed in heatstroke, called for a halt to outdoor activities when a high temperature alert is announced.

“In principle, people should not go outside under the blazing sun, and outdoor activities should be suspended when the warning is issued,” he said.

Hattori said children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to heatstroke as they have less muscle mass that serves to retain water inside the body.

Data from the Japan Sport Council shows that 167 students died of heatstroke while under teachers’ supervision from 1975 to 2015.

Most of the deaths took place while junior high and high school students were doing extracurricular activities, but the figure also includes five elementary schoolchildren.