“You must have been surprised to get a new teacher all of a sudden. I am so sorry. ...”

Thus starts a long letter written by a teacher on sick leave to pupils in his class at Higashi-Suma Elementary School in Kobe. It is painful to read.

He was one of four teachers in their 20s at the school who were subjected to repeated bullying and physical abuse by four of their colleagues in their 30s and 40s, including a woman.

The latter apparently picked on him more viciously than on the others.

According to the municipal board of education, he was smacked on his buttocks with the cardboard core of a large roll of paper. His tormentors climbed on the roof of his car and also coerced him into sending a sexual message to a female colleague.

And there is a video of the victim, who cannot eat spicy foods, being held down and force-fed ultra-spicy curry.

When questioned by the education board, some of the offenders are said to have shrugged off those deeds as just “pranks.” This leaves us speechless. Did they never feel any guilt for keeping up such unethical conduct?

The school’s senior administrators also deserve blame for failing to deal firmly with the situation.

When the bullied teacher tried to speak to the school principal last year, the latter did not even bother to hear him out. When another teacher decided the bullying had gone too far and told the principal of what was transpiring, all the principal did was to take each offender aside and give a verbal warning.

This past spring, this principal was succeeded by his deputy. Even though the new principal was cognizant of the situation, she did not take action beyond a verbal warning, maintaining that the offenders were regretful of what they had done.

She reported to the municipal education board that “the school provided guidance over a problem among teachers.”

It was not until the victimized teacher’s family appealed to the city in September that the entire story came out.

The education board is setting up an investigative panel with the cooperation of third-party experts, including lawyers and educators.

Regarding the offenders, complaints have been made about them attempting to involve pupils in tormenting the victimized teacher and even verbally abusing the children.

The investigative team will need to not only find out the details of bullying and abuse but also examine many other things, such as how the principal and others responded, what other teachers knew about the situation, if the administrators attempted any cover-ups, and why the education board could not get involved sooner.

The four offenders are said to have held key administrative positions in the school and wielded considerable influence. Could it be that their abuse of younger, inexperienced colleagues went unchecked because it was difficult for anyone to speak out against them?

The structural background of this issue needs to be examined closely to prevent any future recurrence.

The issue has shocked society, and it is vital to protect children from unnecessary fallout. The entire faculty of Higashi-Suma Elementary School must try to ensure that pupils will be able to lead a normal school life as soon as possible without any anxiety, and the education board must offer its full support.

It is also important for school authorities around the nation to remain alert to any signs of fear or distress among their own pupils and strive to improve school management at all times.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 14