School Safety and Security in India

Student transport presents huge safety challenges in India.  Millions of students are served by either government or privately operated school buses.  However, parents often opt for private transport in unsafe minivans with little if any training and no background checks for drivers.  The potential for mass casualty accidents is significant due to the heavy traffic in urban centers.  Here a private citizen is attempting to clear a traffic jam which was blocking the route for dozens of school buses and hundreds of motorists.

Student transport presents huge safety challenges in India. Millions of students are served by either government or privately operated school buses. However, parents often opt for private transport in unsafe minivans with little if any training and no background checks for drivers. The potential for mass casualty accidents is significant due to the heavy traffic in urban centers. Here a private citizen is attempting to clear a traffic jam which was blocking the route for dozens of school buses and hundreds of motorists.

School Safety and Security in India

Like the U.S., India is a place of many contrasts when it comes to school safety.  I recently conducted site visits of a number of schools in the New Delhi region as part of an initiative by an NGO to help improve school safety, security and emergency preparedness throughout the massive country.  In one school, I  noted buckets of sand that were still in use to use in the event of a fire (though the school now also has fire extinguishers).  In the same school, I observed student supervision practices that are superior to those I have observed in most of the U.S. public, charter, faith-based, and independent schools I have assessed.  The nation’s many government and privately operated schools face many of the same challenges that U.S. schools do along with others that are quite different.

Security for India’s Massive Educational System

I still find it hard to comprehend that for every one of the more than one million K12 students served by the massive New York City School System, there is an entire school full of children in India.  With a mortality rate for children age five and under that is double that of Vietnam, an adult literacy rate that is nearly thirty percent below that of Trinidad-Tobago and a per capita income level well below that of the Philippines, Indian educators face many challenges even when compared to many other developing nations. Children in India are at much greater risk of victimization and accidental death than is the case in the U.S.  Seeing children of kindergarten age begging for money amidst a sea of cars during night-time rush hour traffic is heartbreaking.

School Violence and Terrorism Risks

India has significant violence issues as well.  For example, parents in India have a considerable and apparently well-grounded fear abduction of their children.  There is a particularly significant issue with school girls being abducted, repeatedly gang-raped and held for ransom.  We were advised that many of these victims end up being murdered as was the case with a student who was kidnapped, repeatedly raped and murdered by some of her classmates recently.  Terrorism also has a significant impact.  In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai and other locations, guests at upscale urban hotels and visitors to shopping malls can expect to have their vehicle searched before they pass through a walk-through metal detector and have their hand carry items checked by security X-ray equipment and/or hand searched.

Opportunities for Improvement in School Safety in India

But all is not gloom and doom in India.  I saw evidence of dedicated educators doing their part to lift up the nation’s youth.  School attendance rates have risen markedly in recent years as well.  Just as I have been the case in my visits to schools in other developing nations, I was deeply touched and honored to meet school teachers who though far from wealthy, scrape up money to buy food, school supplies, and other things for their children.  As in some of the poorest neighborhoods in America, I have been blessed to witness selfless acts of compassion by those who rise to the challenge of improving the lives of India’s 229 million K12 students.

School Safety is a Global Problem

Photo taken during a recent security assessment site visit in Trinidad – Tobago. ©2016Michael Dorn Safe Havens International

Photo taken during a recent security assessment site visit in Trinidad – Tobago. ©2016Michael Dorn Safe Havens International

This high school courtyard in Port of Spain, Trinidad is surrounded by a twelve foot concrete block wall. Note the multiple rolls of razor wire on top of the wall. Two students were recently murdered as they exited the main gate of the school at the end of the school day. The murder rate of 28 per 100,000 people in Trinidad – Tobago is well above the 3.2 murders per 100,000 in the United States.
It is easy to assume that American schools are uniquely challenged with violence and other safety concerns. In reality, school safety and security issues are a pervasive global issue. School officials in Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Argentina, Israel, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, South Africa, Kenya, and Trinidad – Tobago all have safety concerns ranging from poisonous snakes, spiders and centipedes to gang violence, terrorism and devastating natural disasters.
Hazards come in many forms and vary from country to country. For example, school-related homicides in many other countries typically occur “at the gate” instead of in the classroom or campus proper. England, Vietnam and Trinidad – Tobago are just a few examples of countries where schools are typically completely fenced in. Schools in Vietnam and Trinidad – Tobago also usually also have uniformed security personnel stationed at the entrance of both primary and secondary schools. In these countries, murders of students and staff typically occur right after the victim steps through the main entry gate to leave the campus rather than inside the compound. While working on a project in London in 2003, metropolitan police informed me that six students had been murdered at the gates of London K12 schools that year. Keeping in mind that there are more K12 students in the United States than there are people of all ages in England, six student homicides is a staggering number in relation to the overall population of the country.
It is extremely difficult to contrast school homicide data between countries due to differences in definitions and reporting practices. The United States is one of the only countries where the government actually tabulates school homicides at the national level. Currently, researchers often must comb through media accounts to find anecdotal data when trying to evaluate school violence in other nations. In addition, the homicide rates of many countries are far higher than in the United States. For example, United Nations data indicates an astounding 90 homicides per 100,000 people in Honduras in contrast to 3.2 homicides per 100,000 people in the United States. Venezuela currently ranks second in the world with 82 homicides per 100,000 people according to U.N. figures.
While many people assume that American K12 schools are among the most dangerous in the world, the educators in Trinidad – Tobago that I have worked with have been stunned to learn that Canada, England, Scotland, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Austria, Germany, Mexico, Jamaica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, and most other countries around the globe have also experienced school-related homicides.
For perspective, it is also important to note that like the U.S., incidents of violence are not the only cause of mass casualty loss of life in schools abroad. For example, more than 7,000 Chinese students died in their schools during the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008. In an even more catastrophic event, another 17,000 students were killed in their schools in the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. This week, I am working on a large school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment project in India which has its own unique concerns about school safety. In one incident, a school teacher, a school custodian, and the school’s principal were arrested for criminal negligence after a young child who was not being properly supervised entered a maintenance access door that had been left unlocked. The boy drowned in a tank of water triggering actions by government official to hold school employees accountable for the child’s tragic death. Sadly, America is far from alone in our concerns of school safety and violence.

Student Supervision and Space Management

Student Supervision and Space Management – Valuable Tools to Prevent Problems in Schools “Fight Club”

A lot has happened in the past month in school safety, including a situation that received a fair amount of national press coverage a few weeks back.  Media accounts allege that students at Nevada Valley Union High School in Grass Valley, California had been participating in what reporters characterized as a “fight club” for several months.  Allegedly, groups of students would enter an unsecured locker room in the basement of the school, don boxing gloves, and fight one another.  Video segments shown by news outlets depict students boxing while a number of other students observe.

Caution about video footage

According to reporters, parents are upset that this activity has apparently been going on without detection by staff at the school.  I am always cautious about opining on video segments without supportive background information.  I testified in a federal civil action in a case involving an independent boarding school a few years ago.  Videos of students sparring in their dormitory rooms depicted students punching one another in the stomach while other students looked on.  The video footage depicted by the news media initially looked horrific.  However, our video crew was able to locate the original unedited footage on YouTube which revealed that the videos were taken widely out of context and were likely posted as an effort to force the school to settle the suit. This is but one example demonstrating that some videos that are aired on the news are not accurate depictions.

Student supervision and space management

With this caution in mind, I do not have enough information to accurately evaluate how bad the situations depicted in the “fight club” video clips really are.  At the same time, I have a different take on the incident than many people do.  While media accounts focused on the need for students to be informed of the dangers of hitting one another without proper protective headgear, I immediately questioned whether a lack of proper student supervision and space management should be more of a
focus.  The ability of students to gain access to a large space such as a locker room and to repeatedly engage in inappropriate activities has implications far beyond those that are upsetting to many people who have viewed the video clips. Robberies, sexual assaults and deaths have occurred in smaller spaces where adult supervision was lacking.  The concept of space management involves a thoughtful effort to keep certain types of areas in K12 schools secured when they are not occupied by an adult who can supervise and prevent incidents like these.

Case in point – the “sex room” case

I recently finished a civil action in Illinois that involved two high school students who repeatedly engaged in group sex with several young women who were special needs students functioning at the third grade level.  During the criminal investigation and successful prosecution of the two young men, the victims repeatedly referred to the space where the incidents occurred as the “sex room.”  The district spent one million dollars defending against the civil action but once they passed this self-insurance limit, their insurance carrier immediately offered plaintiffs’ counsel a settlement.   Based on what I saw in the case file, it would have been extremely risky for this case to go to a jury trial.

We see so many tragic cases in schools where inadequate student supervision and/or improper space management are a major factor.  Providing clear guidance for staff on simple but effective student supervision practices and the importance of keeping unoccupied spaces locked can help to prevent many school safety incidents.    Effective leadership to make these simple but effective practices consistent realities in a school is one of the best ways to stay out of the news and out of court by preventing a myriad of negative situations.

Link to original news story:

Student Supervision