ABU DHABI // A bus driver and supervisor have been sentenced to three years in jail for negligence leading to the death of a three-year-old girl, who was locked in a school bus last year.
The owner of the transport company that leased the vehicle to the school and a school administrator were also found guilty of charges related to the death of Nizaha Aalaa.
And Al Worood Academy, where Nizaha was a KG1 pupil, was ordered to close on Sunday and fined Dh150,000 by the Court of Misdemeanours.
Nizaha died from suffocation on October 7 when she was locked in the bus after it arrived at the school. Her body was found at 11.45am after she had fallen asleep in the back seat.
Her death shocked the community.
On Sunday, the owner of the bus company was sentenced to six months in jail for endangering lives. He was also ordered to pay a fine of Dh500,000 for employing staff who were not under his sponsorship.
An administrator at the school was given a suspended, three-year jail sentence and fined Dh20,000 for failing to check student records that day.
The driver and attendant were also fined Dh20,000 each, and they, the administrator and the school have been ordered to pay blood money of Dh200,000 between them to Nizaha’s family.
Each defendant has a month to appeal against their sentence.
The school was ordered to close, and pay fines of Dh50,000 for causing the girl’s death and Dh100,000 for endangering pupils’ lives by hiring unlicensed school buses.
On October 20 last year, the Abu Dhabi Education Council ordered Al Worood Academy to close its doors in August this year, when its operating licence would be revoked. Adec took over its management for the rest of the academic year.
The regulator’s ruling followed Nizaha’s death and repeated poor rankings for the school, at which 59 per cent of enrolments are Emirati, after inspections.
All five defendants denied responsibility for the girl’s death.
The driver said he was ordered to not have contact with pupils. His responsibility was only to drive them to and from school.
He said it was the supervisor’s duty to check that all pupils had left, and on the day of Nizaha’s death she told him he was clear to park the bus.
She later admitted to prosecutors that she had not checked the back seats.
Throughout the trial, the supervisor requested adjournments to appoint a lawyer, but was still not represented on Sunday.
She told the court she was a cleaner at the school but was given the job of supervising children on the bus, despite not being licensed for the job.
The school administrator’s defence team argued that it would have been impossible for her to call all 1,075 parents of absent children that day in time to discover the whereabouts of the missing girl before she died.
Nizaha died the day after the Eid Al Adha holidays, when many parents kept their children home for the full week.
The school had argued to the court that it had contacted Adec several times to report that the buses were not up to standard for carrying pupils.
It asked for permission to increase pupils’ fees to hire better buses.
But Adec told the school to contact the police department responsible for assessing the buses. The school said it had been waiting for police to issue their findings.
The owner of the bus company said the school checked the buses before using them and knew they were not licensed.
Prosecutors said the company owner confessed to recruiting supervisors for the buses who were not under his sponsorship, but he argued that they had been appointed by the school.
Nizaha's death led to the introduction of strict rules for school buses to better protect the safety of pupils.
The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said the case had drawn attention to malpractices that led to a shocking tragedy, as the victim was a child who should had better care and protection.