With most school managements in Bengaluru reluctant to adhere to some of the child safety guidelines issued by the Police Department, there is uncertainty in the air.
While the Police Department is unsure about taking action against schools that do not comply with the rules after August 31, school managements have not decided on their course of action yet. Bangalore Police Commissioner M N Reddi is aware of the concerns raised by the private school associations. However he admitted that taking action against schools that don’t follow the norms is not easy. “We just cannot take action immediately, there are almost 1000 schools in the city and we need to hear them out,” he added.
Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department S K Pattanayak said the entire issue is being handled by the Police Commissioner, who will issue the necessary guidelines and inform the Home Department about it.
Last year, the Home Department had framed some safety guidelines to prevent sexual abuse in education institutions which was sent to Education Department for consideration, but it was put in cold storage.
What is the confusion?
August 31 is the deadline given for schools to comply with the guidelines given by the Bangalore Police. Bangalore Police Commissioner M N Reddi on July 26, 2017, had issued a nine-point guideline that included:
- School buses should appoint a male and a female staff to accompany students till they are dropped at their doorsteps. Buses should have GPS and CCTV devices, which should be functional always. Managements should verify driving licenses of drivers and get information about their antecedents from police.
- Managements should have written agreements with vehicle owners that owners would be solely responsible for violation of norms by drivers.
- Managements should issue strict instructions to drivers to stay in vehicles. They should be warned not to move inside school premises and try to drag children into conversation unnecessarily.
- Concerned teachers and supervisors alone should be present at ground, swimming pool, laboratories, library, dancing hall and gym. There should not be entry to others or unauthorised persons.
- Managements should appoint Floor Vigilance Officers (FVO). A transparent glass cabin should be set up for them so that they could monitor activities taking place in all directions.
- CCTVs should be installed, maintained, monitored by exclusive staff and footages stored upto a period of 60 days. If anything special is seen while monitoring the CCTV, that will have to be informed to the concerned.
- Identity cards with photos of students should be given to parents. Parents should give a specific cell phone number for contacting during emergencies, and the schools should respond to SMS/ queries coming only from such numbers.
- Identity cards should be given to staff, office-bearers of management, security guards, attenders after verifying their antecedents from police. Everybody should be directed to display ID cards while in school.
- Management should appoint security guards who will work in three shifts. Security staff should submit report to their heads every two hours about safety status.
Failure to adhere to the above conditions by August 31 would be punishable under section 188 of IPC, warned Reddi, in the circular. Section 188 is Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant, punishable with simple imprisonment up to one month or with fine up to 200 rupees, or with both.
After this, private schools approached the police, stating why they are unable to follow all the guidelines given. Satya Murthy, Vice President of Karnataka Unaided School Management Association (KUSMA) said, “Our legal advisor K V Dhananjay met Bangalore Police Commissioner to discuss about the circular that the police had issued asking schools to follow the guidelines. Some of the points can be implemented quickly, but some like CCTV cameras cannot be implemented.”
While M N Reddi said he will withhold taking action on schools for noncompliance, the next meeting with school managements is yet to be scheduled.
Guidelines from Education Department
The new safety guidelines with 70 points, issued by the Director of Public Instruction (DPI) is being criticised for its lack of forethought and some points in the guidelines, such as:
Sending children only with parents or relative with authorized ID card.
CCTV in every nook and corner of school
Two male and two female teachers should accompany children in education trip- but for how many students not specified.
Teachers should not communicate with children after school hours except for school-related activity
Marking unsafe places in the school
What irks some private school managements is the view of the government that exempts government schools from following the rules.
“The most ridiculous part is only private schools and mainly Bangalore schools have the obligation of implementing them. Do they mean only private schools encounter these type of incidents?” says Shashikumar, Director of Blossoms school who also happens to be the general secretary of KAP-JAK (Karnataka Private school Joint Action Committee). He adds that POCSO is a very powerful act, but he has personally witnessed many cases of misuse.
What problems do the schools have?
“Many of the points stated in DPI’s new guidelines are not clear. Many are irrational and unscientific and can’t be implemented. The police guidelines specify for GPS and CCTV camera in all school buses, which is not economically feasible and it is highly impossible to meet the deadline,” elaborates Shashikumar.
Many schools are contemplating hiking the fee to compensate the financial burden incurred by installing CCTV camera and GPS.
Schools are also worried that as the Police Department has given guideline, they might, in future, regularly visit the schools to check the implementation. “What was the need for two sets of guidelines?” asks Narase Gowda, organising secretary of Karnataka State Private Schools Managements’ Federation (KSPSMF), who also runs three schools in different parts of Bangalore.
“Child safety in school hours is definitely our responsibility. We cannot and do not want to run away from this. But though we are the main stakeholder, they have framed the guidelines without consulting us. If we start implementing all these guidelines strictly, parents and children will suffer,” he adds.
No regulation for pre-schools, tutorials
Preschools and play homes face a different problem. There is ambiguity about who will monitor the playschools and the safety norms in these schools. They do not get any kind circulars or notice from the Education Department, as they are not regulated yet.
“We have not taken any awareness measures on POCSO Act as such, but we have a set of guidelines on the safety of children and we have asked the school staff to follow that strictly. But the sad thing is because of the recent cases, the teacher and ayahs have become more edgy now… After the recent incident, as an extra safety measure we have installed a CCTV camera in our school,” says Alka Sen who is the head of Viha School in Whitefield.
One more important point which is completely omitted from all these guidelines is the safety of children in tutorials and tuition classes, where children are vulnerable to abuse. There is not even a single guideline to govern them. The government has totally neglected the issue this time too, while forming the new guidelines.
Safety practices followed in schools
There are some schools that have taken the guidelines seriously. “We continuously get circulars regarding the safety of children from CBSE and regular reminders from concerned BEOs. We have strictly implemented all these,” says Niti Mahendra, Principal of Edify School in Kanakapura Road. “We got many circulars regarding POCSO as well, since its inception. All our staff are well aware about POCSO. This is not something that happened post Vibgyor incident,” she adds.
Schools are updated about the new acts or guidelines from various government departments. They get constant circulars from different school boards, notices from Education Department, Supreme Court guidelines, RTE norms and others. They do attend several workshops on child safety.
However, these were looked upon just as a normal procedure by the managements that did not encounter any problem in their own schools. Post-Vibgyor incident, after receiving flak from all the quarters, Department of Public Instruction and Police have issued separate new guidelines, which the schools are obliged to meet.
For now, it looks like the current set of guidelines would meet the fate of other such directives issued by the government that haven’t resulted in any significant change.
With inputs from Nikita Malusare, Staff Journalist, Citizen Matters.