The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:38 pm, May 27, 2014
Approval for Taketomi town to become independent school district problematic
The latest move in the Okinawa Prefecture school textbook case may become a bad precedent, we are afraid.
The Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education has approved the secession of the town board of education in Taketomi from the textbook selection council of the Yaeyama district—comprising the city of Ishigaki and the towns of Taketomi and Yonaguni—in the prefecture.
The Taketomi Board of Education has been using a textbook of its own choice in public schools for more than two years, in violation of the law on the free provision of school textbooks, which stipulates that a joint textbook adoption district—comprising more than one municipality—must adopt the same textbook throughout.
The Taketomi Board of Education did not comply with a demand for corrective action that the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry made in March based on the Local Government Law.
As the prefectural board of education has approved the Taketomi Board of Education’s establishment of an independent educational district, the Taketomi board will be able to adopt textbooks of its own choice beginning next fiscal year. We cannot help but feel doubtful about the latest development, as it seems to have caved in to the hard line taken by the town board.
We must remember that the current state of unlawfulness will remain until the end of this fiscal year. This development is quite problematic from the viewpoint of legal compliance.
Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said the ministry would not file a lawsuit against the Taketomi town government to formally establish the illegality of the town board’s actions.
He has reportedly concluded that even if the education ministry wins the suit and has the town board change the textbook for use at public schools, it would only cause confusion in classrooms in the middle of an academic year. But this does not mean Shimomura approves of the current state of illegality.
The prefectural board of education carries a grave responsibility for allowing the confusion to drag on.
Dispute over textbooks
In the summer of 2011, the textbook selection council of the Yaeyama district chose a civic studies textbook published by Ikuhosha Publishing Inc. for use in middle schools. The council selected the textbook because it contains a full description of territorial issues.
Despite the council’s selection, however, the Taketomi Board of Education unilaterally decided to use a textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki Co.
The prefectural board of education has not taken steps to have the Taketomi Board of Education take corrective action. Even when the education ministry instructed the prefectural board of education last October to demand the Taketomi Board of Education conform, the prefectural board did nothing.
The joint textbook adoption system allows small local municipalities with limited personnel to cooperate with each other in selecting school textbooks. Joint textbook adoption districts comprise local municipalities that share the same sense of unity geographically and culturally.
The law on the free provision of school textbooks was revised in April as some cases emerged in which the demarcation of the joint textbook adoption district would no longer correspond to the distribution of local communities and their livelihoods due to mergers of cities, towns and villages in recent years.
The revision changed the description of administrative units of joint textbook adoption districts from “cities and counties” to “cities, towns and villages,” allowing textbooks to be selected by educational districts that combine towns and villages more flexibly.
The Taketomi Board of Education, apparently by distorting the meaning of the legal revision to its own advantage, demanded that it could break away from the educational district. Yet the ties among municipalities within the Yaeyama district remain strong. There are no special circumstances surrounding the district due to the recent merger of municipalities. The secession of the Taketomi Board of Education was not made in line with the purport of the law revision.
It is only reasonable that the boards of education of Ishigaki and Yonaguni have called for leaving the current framework in place.
It is regrettable that such a natural procedure as the board of education selecting a textbook in compliance with laws and ordinances has been ignored.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 27, 2014)