Guidelines to a safe school environment parents should check before enrolling their child

The second day of the month of September started beautifully but ended on a sad note as everyone learned that one of the most esteemed girls’ schools in Nairobi had lost eight of its students in a fire tragedy.

Heartbreaking photos of parents and teachers trying to comprehend what happened and mourning their loved ones were all over our screens and the whole country was moved. The sad incident has continued to spark all manner of reactions and one of the points that really hit home was that parents are more concerned about the performance of their children and most of them do not take their time to assess matters such as security.

I am guilty of that as well and so are other parents going by sentiments such as,“We Kenyans need to repent for our hypocrisy. The freedom we sing about for ourselves is a sharp contrast to what we accept for our kids,” Dr. Wandia Njoya.

Another online user said that parents of another Nairobi school were more concerned about flashy projects such as pools and bakeries and yet sanitation is poor and the arrogant and poor administration did not help matters any. In that thread, most parents agreed that most schools were concerned about money making at the expense of important issues such as safety and well-being of their students.

Dr. Omamo said, “We are staring at a TB outbreak in schools and universities due to congestion, poor building standards and lack of screening.”
With this backdrop of issues in mind, some parents may want to visit the schools where they enrolled their children to find out if they are safe or not.

School safety means the measures undertaken by the learners, staff, parents and other stakeholders to either minimise or eliminate risky conditions or threats that may cause accidents, bodily injury as well as emotional and psychological distress.

Threats to School Safety can emanate internally–within the school environment– or externally,–from the wider community.If you are planning such a visit you can use this guideline from the Safety Standards Manual to help you,

Photo Courtesy of CBA

1. Consider the measures taken to ensure good health and nutrition which is indispensable to effective learning among learners. Here, you can discuss issues such as childhood diseases and malnutrition and hunger among the students which makes them susceptible to accidents or bodily injury. Increased incidents of drug and substance abuse, child pregnancy and female circumcisions also compound to problems related to health in schools.

2. Some schools are normally affected by problems such as armed conflict, insecurity, political violence, and cattle rustling. In such instances, the school and the parents should talk and have some kind of agreement on how those cases should be handled. They can agree on the best place to assemble the students, when to close the school and how they can be ferried to safer places.

3. It is sad that in this day and age, some schools have not made the necessary infrastructural changes to accommodate children with disabilities. Such changes include ramps and facilities such as toilets and so on. If it is a primary school it should also have personnel that can help such students find their way around the school and get help in any way they want.
4. Any school confirmed to have no valid title-deed after verification with Ministry of Lands or any relevant authority should be assisted to secure ownership of the land or be moved to own grounds. The school should also post a “NO TRESPASSING” and “VISITORS REPORT TO HEAD TEACHER’S OFFICE“ signs at the main gate entrance.

For schools without a gate and a fence, a sign should be posted next to the main passageway into the school with the words “NO TRESPASSING” and “VISITORS REPORT TO THE HEAD TEACHER’S OFFICE.” This will really help to keep troublemakers from the surrounding community out of the school. It is will also help the administration know who is moving around in their school and their agenda there.

5. All visitors to the school must sign the visitor’s register and record their IDs at the gate. The gatekeeper must verify that the IDs are valid and keep them safe. The IDs are to be returned on signing out on completion of the visit. School staff, as well as community members, should have the right to question any stranger found near or within the school grounds.

6. School grounds should, wherever possible, be located in places with least climatic hazards such as floods, wind effects, and similar natural hazards. Similarly, schools should be located away from disruptive land use activities such as industrial facilities, bars, heavy traffic routes, sewage or dump sites.

7. The school grounds should be leveled to make them easier for use by learners and teachers. The bare areas of the school grounds should be planted with grass to minimise the effects of dust. Trees in the school should be labeled, indicating their uses and those that may be poisonous.

One of the Three StephJoy Boys High School dormitories burnt in Kiambu in 2015 Image: Daily Nation
One of the Three StephJoy Boys High School dormitories burnt in Kiambu in 2015 Image: Daily Nation

8. The playgrounds in the school should reflect the diversity of sports talents in the school while the equipment used for such games should meet the necessary safety requirements. Proper segregation (separation) of these grounds should be ensured.

9. There should be proper and regular supervision and inspection of school grounds to ensure that there are no items such as broken glass, loose sticks, stones or pot-holes that can cause injury to the learners, teachers or other school personnel. w Learners and staff should collectively be responsible for playground safety

10. The size of the classroom, in terms of length and width, should be as specified in the Ministry of Education building specifications i.e. 7.5m x 5.85m or 7.5m x 6.0m. Such classrooms should accommodate a maximum of 30 learners in one-seater desks or 40 learners in two-seater desks in line with the provisions of the Ministry of Education circular on Health and Safety Standards in Educational Institutions (2001).

11. The doorways should be adequate for emergency purposes, open outwards and should not be locked from outside at any time when learners are inside.

12. For storeyed buildings, the stairways should be wide enough and located at both ends of the building and should be clear of any obstructions at all times. The construction of stairways should give provision for learners with special needs/disabilities. The handrails in the stairs should be strong and firmly fixed.

13. The corridors should be both well ventilated and lit. The width should be wide enough for the learners to walk along without bumping into each other. w Classroom windows must be without grills and should be easy to open.

14. The classrooms should be properly lit and ventilated. The floors should be level and kept clean always. For cemented floors, any cracks should be repaired in good time. Similarly, for mud walls and floors teachers should ensure that they are regularly smeared with fresh mud and floors smeared with cow dung to prevent the development of cracks and the generation of dust that can pose risks to the health of both teachers and learners. In all cases, efforts should be made to cement all the classroom floors

15. Every block in the school should have serviced fire extinguishers in case of fires. Everyone in the school should also be taught how to use the fire extinguishers.

16. The furniture in classrooms, especially the desks, should be appropriate for use by both male and female learners. Poorly constructed or inappropriate desks can lead to physical deformities such as curvature of the spine, contraction of the chest, the roundness of shoulders or a confirmed stoop. They can also create tension and fatigue among learners.

17. The class teacher should ensure that the desks are arranged in a manner that facilitates easy and orderly movement of learners in the classroom—ideally, each desk should have no more than 3 learners and space between any two desks should be at least 2 feet

18. The positioning of electrical sockets should be beyond the reach of young learners in order to avoid tampering.

19. Dormitories should be clean and properly ventilated. The space between the beds should be at least 1.2 metres while the corridor or pathway space should not be less than 2 metres. Since sharing of beds is prohibited in schools, admissions should be tied to bed capacity at all times.

All doorways should be wide enough, at least 5 feet wide, and they should open outwards. They must not at any time be locked from outside when learners are inside. Each dormitory should have a door at each end and an additional emergency exit at the middle. It should be clearly labelled “Emergency Exit”. Dormitory doors should be locked at all times when learners are in class or on the playing fields.

20. Dormitory windows must be without grills and should be easy to open outwards. w Fire extinguishing equipment should be functioning and placed at each exit with fire alarms fitted at easily accessible points. Regular spot checks by the teachers and the administration should be undertaken before learners retire to bed.
An accurate roll call should be taken every day and records well maintained. There should be regular patrols by the school security personnel or any other authorized security personnel. No visitor should be allowed in the dormitory.

21. Bunk beds should be strong and firm and fitted with side-grills to protect young learners against falling off.

One of the seven dormitories torched by rioting students at Itierio boys high school in Kisii in 2016 Image: The Star
One of the seven dormitories torched by rioting students at Itierio boys high school in Kisii in 2016 Image: The Star

22. Where pit toilets are used, the structures should be built at least 10 metres away from tuition and boarding facilities and on the downwind side. Where ablution block is attached to the dormitory, a high degree of cleanliness must be maintained. Pit latrines should not be less than 6 metres (20ft) deep, and should be regularly well disinfected. Pit latrines should be at least 15 metres (50 ft) away from a borehole or well or water supply point.

23. Where there are boreholes or shallow wells in places with difficult soil types or land forms, the school management should seek the advice of the water department before the digging of a pit latrine. w In mixed schools, girls’ sanitation areas must be separate and offer complete privacy. w Each school should ensure safe and effective disposal of sanitary wear

24. In the construction of sanitary facilities, the following must be observed in relation to numbers: – The first 30 learners: 4 closets (holes). – The next 270 learners: one extra closet for every 30 learners. – Every additional learner over 270 learners: 1 closet per 50 learners.
All closets must be clean, well-ventilated and properly maintained. w At least one-third of the fittings for boys should be closets and the rest urinals. If a urinal is a trough, then 0.6m (2 ft.) of the trough is equivalent to one fitting.

25. If learners are responsible for cleaning their sanitation facilities, proper protective measures (e.g. provision of gloves) must be taken. Soap and tap water or water cans fitted with taps should be set outside the toilets for washing hands after use of these facilities. For girls, tap water/washing places should be behind a screen or wall.

 

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