Five Tasks for a School Safety Committee

(This was first published: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/5-tasks-for-a-school-safety-commitee/)

5 tasks for a school safety commitee
July 21, 2014, 10:13 AM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | Bangalore, India | TOI
“But how could it happen?”
The school in question this time denies responsibility. Then accepts it. More reports are printed – of there being a dark room for punishments in the school. Of painkiller injections being given to children without parental consent. A girl was raped in school by staff. The horror and disgust – and disbelief is overpowering. What is worse is that it could happen anywhere. Unless we step up.
Parents now reveal that at the time of admission they sign on a document that absolves schools of responsibility for the safety and security of a child.
How can this be legal?
Schools are first places of safe learning before being anything else – certification agencies or funnels to higher education or anything. They are safe places. They exist to provide safe environments to children to explore, be curious, to learn, to be taught. This is why schools have walls, fences and gates – to keep their wards safe. This is why access to schools is restricted – only people who have been authorised to work with children, having been tested for their competence and abilities are allowed into the fenced area where children play freely.
Schools cannot run away from their responsibilities. They cannot simply shrug and walk away.
Enough lazy governance, schools. It is time you step up and did the job you were hired to do. Simple. Safe Learning Spaces. This is your business.
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The current case has occurred in a private school in Bangalore, there have been others previously in government and private schools too. Our children’s safety does not seem to have become part of the daily concerns of either schools or parents. How many of you as parents accept the fact that you have to jump over an open ditch or walk over half made steps to get your child into the school? How many of you have checked the police verification certificate of the transport operator that takes the child to school? As teachers – do you react in shock that children are not supervised often on the school premises?
Granted, accidents happen and mistakes get made – there is no system that is 100% foolproof. But the lack of a safety system for school age children is an abdication of responsibility. Building the conversation and seeking action on school governance is a mission – this is the only way such episodes can be minimised.
There is much parental anger and disgust now because of the horrible incident that has occurred. This needs to translate to better parental engagement in schools – and please – not just the mothers. The best schools are able to engage parents in school processes in meaningful ways. Some have a parent escort in school buses, where parents take turns. Some have parent reading programs, parents help with changing for swimming, with supporting remedial sessions, some play sessions, school book fairs, fund raising activities and more.
The engagement of parents in school boards is vital – if the school does not have a formal mechanism for parents to be part of their management committee or board, then parents could make a start by creating a parental advisory board that engages with the school. No, this is not like a trade union of yore where you go and fight for your rights – this is about creating constructive engagement with the school to improve the safety and learning that will help our children. All children.
The RTE act mandates a school management committee – and this should be taken up by all schools, not just the ones that have been forced to by regulation. The composition and powers of the school management committee are crucial – the SMC must have community engagement. Parents, teachers, senior local community members, staff from peer schools and subject matter experts based on the needs of the school. The SMC sits above the school management and has the power to advise and instruct the school leadership.
Start small – start with a School Safety Committee if the SMC and the school governance structure seems too tough to do (it is easy, really)
And what should this school safety committee do?
1. Assess the risks that are facing the school. (For example physical risks to children, non availability of good teachers which will hurt learning.. etc.)
2. Ask the school high they mitigate those risks. (Do they have a school safety plan? Are drains and ditches being covered? Is the canteen checked for hygiene regularly/ Is the food from the canteen and water in the tap tested for safety? Are teachers and workers police verified? Is there a safety training system to make sure that at least one person per floor is trained in first aid, fire safety etc.?Are school toilets cleaned regularly so that they don’t spread disease? Are they inspected to ensure that unsavoury activities are not going on in closed spaces? Are there fire extinguishers in every zone, sand buckets easily accessible? Are wires all taped up? Are electrical inspections done regularly? Is the school building safe? Does the school guard check entry authorisation? And so on. (Comprehensive list available))
3. Ask and verify how the school safety checks are documented and reported by the school. Every school is responsible to a number of people for doing the job it promised to do – and therefore must have proof of having done so. This responsibility – indeed – liability- cannot be wished or delegated away.
4. Create a system for inspecting the school in a friendly, informal and comprehensive manner to verify the truth of the reports, and to report anything untoward. Parents can report to each other informally and document whatever they find at the school and have a civilised conversation with the school to agree a plan to resolve the issue. Good schools will always agree to make things better and will appreciate well mannered support from the parents. Bad schools may not like it and will call it ‘interference’ – and then a parent knows that they have to make tough choices about feeding a monster or finding alternatives.
5. Ensure that the school environment is open and transparent. Let there be lots of dialogue between schools and parents, let everyone in the school know that they are watched all the time. Ensure that supervisory rosters are visible, and that parents, students and school managements can check on them every time.
Is this creating a police state inside the school? No – this is creating an atmosphere where we look out for each other and create a chain of care. If one person – say the poor girl who was hurt and abused at her school – is missing, then her buddy, their chain buddy, their teacher, their supervisor, the visiting parent – all must create an instant alert. Some one in the system will care enough to make the right thing happen. Someone must care to keep our schools safe.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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