School safety must be upheld

Now the court case over Nizaha Aalaa’s death is over, the real work to avoid a repeat begins

An empty classroom at Al Jemaiyah School. Nicole Hill / The National

One hopes the conclusion of the court case over the death of Nizaha Aalaa, the three-year-old who died of heat exhaustion after being left in a school bus in Abu Dhabi last October, will provide a sense of closure to her family. In the final appeal, the Court of Cassation ordered the school, its principal and the bus driver and supervisor to pay a total of Dh100,000 as blood money to the little girl’s family.

This reflects the limitations of the legal process: no amount of money can ever come close to compensating for the loss of Nizaha.But this tragedy is not unusual because every year, children die after being left in vehicles during hot weather. As her family noted, they hope this incident will increase vigilance to prevent another family suffering the grief they have endured.

Maintaining the safety of transport to and from schools is the joint responsibility of the government, the community and private companies involved in the education sector. Although this incident occurred outside the school grounds, it does not absolve the school of resposibility for the tragedy.

By ordering the closure of the Al Worood Academy Private School, despite a court ruling to overturn an earlier ruling ordering it to be shut down, Abu Dhabi Education Council has already sent a clear message that negligence will not be tolerated when it involves the safety of students. The next step is to enforce the new school bus safety measures introduced this year by the School Transport Executive Committee in Abu Dhabi, including mandatory seat belts, medical tests for drivers, and training courses on pupil safety. This initiative needs to become the standard across the UAE.

Even these provisions alone are not enough and regular inspections by the authorities are required to ensure schools and their staff are abiding by these rules. Schools ought to have the safety of the children in their care as a top priority, and there needs to be zero tolerance of those who put them at risk.