When you choose a school for your child, I am sure you look at its building, reputation, faculty and the quality of teaching. But do you ever do a "safety check"?
Given that your child spends four to six hours in the school five days a week, you should always do a 'due diligence' in respect of the school's safety infrastructure and ensure that your child is safe at the school.
The first in the checklist would be fire safety. Remember the devastating fire that razed Sri Krishna School in Kumbakonam, killing nearly a hundred children in July 2004? Or the Dabwali tragedy in Haryana in 1995, where the shamiana put up for a function at the DAV Public School caught fire, resulting in the death of 441 children?
In both the cases, the cause of fire was carelessness. The consequent deaths and injuries could well have been prevented if only the school had been prepared to deal with such a situation.
So it is extremely important to know whether the school authorities are safety conscious and have adopted adequate measures to prevent fires. A reference point could be the code of practice for fire safety drawn up for educational institutions by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
It is equally important to know whether the school has fire alarms, sufficient number of fire extinguishers in working condition, large enough exits for evacuation in case of a fire? Does it have adequate water reserves and fire hydrants to douse fire? Does the school conduct regular fire safety drills with the help of fire service personnel?
Besides fire safety, parents also need to look at building safety in its entirety. Is the paint used in the school lead free? Do the windows of all upper floors have protective grills? Are the glass panes on the windows properly fixed?
In July 2003, Bhavna, a student of St. Mark's School in Meena Bagh, New Delhi, was injured when a glass pane from one of the windows on the first floor fell on her.
You also need to check whether the school building is protected from earthquake and lightning strikes.
It is equally important to look at the safety of playgrounds, play equipment and toys given to children. Swimming pools and school transportation too need to be scrutinised carefully from the point of safety.
Every school needs to have adequate first aid facilities and arrangements for medical care in case of an emergency. So find out whether the school has a tie-up with a doctor or a hospital nearby?
Since there is strength in unity, parents should come together and form "school safety committees" to examine and review safety issues and force the school to comply with all safety norms. That way, you can prevent repeat of those tragedies where young children paid the price for the callous negligence of school authorities.
Sudha Kannan: A neighbour's three year old child got injured near the eye from a sharp edged toy given in the playschool. Can she hold the school responsible?
Answer: The school is certainly responsible for any accident or injury caused on account of its negligence and liable to pay for the consequences.
In the case of S. Somasun-daram Vs The Correspondent, Sri Chakravarthy International Matriculation Academy, decided in 2001, the highest consumer court in the country made it clear that "a school's responsibility does not end with providing quality education. Safety of the students is as much an integral part of the service provided by it".
Mr Somasundaram had lost his three-year-old daughter because the school was careless enough to leave a large septic tank open in the school premises.