Suzuka demonstrates her hand-raising technique to JNN.
The smile little Suzuka always wears was shining even more brightly than usual on April 6th, the day of her entrance ceremony into elementary school.
6-year-old Suzuka Aoki’s perennial cheer, infectious smile, and gravelly voice have been a fixture on Japanese news for the past year as her parents battled for her right to attend a public school. She is now so well known that the Japanese media often refer to her as just “Suzuka-chan.”
She finished Kindergarden in her hometown of Higashiyamato City, located in Tokyo, last week, but until last year it was unclear if she would be able to attend a normal elementary school at all.
Suzuka has a severe form of laryngomalacia, a congenital throat disorder that makes it difficult for her to breathe. A machine must be used to remove mucus from her throat through a hole in her trachea about once an hour. This process is considered a medical treatment, so in general is only supposed to be performed by someone medically certified or her family.
Because of this, Higashiyamato City had refused to let her attend Kindergarden there since there was no nurse on staff allowed to do the treatment she needed.
Suzuka’s parents sued the city, and amid widespread media attention the Tokyo District Court ordered the city to accept her. She finally entered a public Kindergarden last February, and finished last week. The city will be placing a registered nurse at the school to provide for her medical needs.
Suzuka is very lucky, however—local governments in Japan have not been required to make special arrangements of this sort to accommodate students with medical problems. According to a national government investigation, there are more than 5800 children in Japan who need special medical care while at school, and it was only this April that education law reforms made allowances for handicapped children and those with special needs.
The national government has now adjusted the public education budget to put a “Special Needs Educational Assistant” in all public elementary and junior high schools in Japan. Their job is to help to children who have unusual medical needs or require other assistance, but are otherwise able to attend normal schools. The funds are supplied to local governments, who can decide whether to use it to hire a nurse or other kind of assistant that will provide the most benefit for the students.
As for Suzuka’s part, while being interviewed by JNN, she said that she wants to make a hundred friends at school, and hopes to become a nurse some day.
You can see some video of Suzuka at TBS News for the next week.