The recent incident of child abuse and sexual assault in Schools has raised debates, concerns and so much noise about the safety of school-going children. Probably, what worries us more, is the recurrence of such incidents at different Schools across India under different circumstances.
We have been asked by many principals, what can the School do to safeguard and protect the children studying on campus? I suggest the following to be adopted by the Schools:
- Assume responsibility. The School Managing Committee and the Principal must acknowledge and accept that it is their responsibility to provide a safe and assured environment of learning for their students. Any self-denial in this regard by means such as indemnity forms will not build trust between the students, staff and the parents.
- Parents must be assured that the School assumes reasonable responsibility for child’s health, safety and security at all times, by all means as would normally be accepted from a School. Reassure the parents that the School is concerned and takes responsibility.
Review the infrastructure and facilities. Identify areas that appear to be hostile and take corrective steps.
- Remove latches on the inside of the doors so that no room can be locked except for certain rooms required occasionally by staff or students for changing dress or so. Certainly, latches or locks from inside of all classroom doors must also be removed or disabled.
Ensure that the School’s academic leaders, coordinators, teaching staff, admin staff is appointed after reference check and background verification.
- Ensure that the support staff, drivers, conductors, security personnel and Aaiyah / caregivers are appointed after verification of police records, background verification. Their place of residence, family history and identity proof must be verified.
- Ensure that the Appointment Letter or Code of Conduct governing all employees include the express prohibition of child abuse, corporal punishment, emotional harassment and sexual harassment; and provide for appropriate penalties against the offender.
- Reinforce the provisions periodically in staff meeting or training workshops / orientation program. Be vocal about your responsibility to protect every child on campus and demonstrate so by all means.
- Organize workshops to sensitize the teachers and other staff for their responsibility to speak out and protect the child in distress.
- Appoint a Sexual Harassment Committee: The School must have a committee for sexual harassment headed by a woman with more than half of its members being women.
- As far as possible, try and place a lady staff on all school bus. The lady staff must be on board for the entire route of the bus. GPS on bus is a must.
- Train and take Office Boys and care givers / aaiyah in pre-primary into confidence. Most of them are not even aware of the meaning and different ways of child abuse and harassment. Ask them to be vigilant and watchful. Let them know what to do in case they observe anything abnormal.
- Similar understanding of child abuse must be given to students. However, this must be handled very sensitively. Content should always be age appropriate.
- If possible, have a Girls Common Room in the campus. Although this is mandatory in colleges, CBSE has not yet made this mandatory for Schools. This would be a welcome provision by parents and older students.
- Have CCTV cameras installed after thoughtful planning. Identify the locations, storage of recorded date, technical requirements and any other need to address the various issues. CCTV cameras must be installed in classrooms but directed at students or doors rather than green boards so that teachers don’t become conscious while teaching. Similarly, the lobby, entrance, corridors must be covered. Normally the practice is that the recording of CCTV footage is stored for a month and then archived for a period of one year. Most Schools have live display of cameras in the Principal cabin while some others appoint a security officer.
- Have security guards in ceremonial dress / regular uniform at entrance / exit gates. While the other security guards around the campus may be in a home dress but common uniform (like the safari suit). This will not scare the children of too much security on campus but at the same time protect them.
- Restrict the entry of outsiders without proper authorization or gate pass. Review and strengthen the system, check points and let these not remain a mere formality. Conduct surprise visits by “ghost visitors” and identify the loopholes in the system.
Avoid renting out of facilities to outsiders or having general public use some of the sports and other facilities on campus, unless it’s on a weekend or during school vacation.
- Conduct “Child protection and safety” week each year to highlight the importance the Management and Principal of the School accord to this issue.
- Install firewall on internet. Ensure that your IT Policy and Systems have enough provisions to monitor, track and control how the internet is used by teachers, staff and students on campus.
We have seen many schools in rural side of India, to have girls and boys toilet located far away from the school building. Whatever may be the reason, it cannot be justified. Please plan the toilet locations within the main building on each floor where students and staff are located.
Finally, it may sound cliché but teach and demonstrate values to your students. The age-old values of love, trust, respect and dignity can never fail a person. Reinforce the expected behavior of all staff members in a positive, pro-active way. They will respond.
Finally, I request members of our fraternity to not be paranoid. It is easy to get carried away by the constant and hostile bombarding of the media and buckle down under pressure. Please do not initiate any measures under panic; rather involve your senior teachers, discuss and review the above suggestions, solicit more advice and then initiate a comprehensive plan.
Each School is different and is cocooned within its own culture, systems and practices. So, please do what is needful and just about everything that is required to make our children safe and protected on the campus.