17 schools were burnt intentionally, say Police

Forensic police officers in front of a burnt dormitory at Salama School for the Blind in Luga, Mukono. Eleven children perished in a blaze that tore through a dormitory at the school on October 25 as pupils were sleeping. PHOTO/Isaac Kasamani

What you need to know:

  • Failure by the schools’ administration to implement basic requirements and minimum standards set by the Ministry of Education and Sports was cited among the causes.

A new police report has revealed that 17 schools of 40 that caught fire across the country between January 5, 2022 and June 27, 2022 were burnt deliberately.  
Four other fire incidents occurred out of negligence and four were accidental. Police is yet to establish the causes of fire in the remaining 15 cases.

“The fires mostly occur in dormitories when the students are not there, with the exception of Kibedi Junior School and St Mary’s Reparatrix Girls S.S.S. in Entebbe. The first witnesses of the fire are mostly students,” the report is quoted in part.
Whereas police indicate that an unspecified number of culprits have been arrested, seven lives of learners have been lost from the above fires. These fires exclude the ones that happened after June. 
Last month, a fire at Salama School of the Blind in Mukono claimed at least 11 lives.

According to the November 1 circular by the Ministry of Education’s permanent secretary, Ms Ketty Lamaro, they have been informed by police that affected schools are boarding sections and are privately owned. 
The report also indicates that the fires were caused by criminal conduct of students trying to settle personal scores like reacting to disciplinary action by school administration or as a result of quarrels among students.
Police also cited the use of illegal electric equipment by students, unattended electrical appliances, careless handling of cooking materials, unsafe hot electrical metal welding, cutting and repair works as some of the causes.
Failure by the schools administration to implement basic requirements and minimum standards of the Ministry of Education and Sports was also cited among the causes of fire in schools.

“Fires are happening despite having in place a number of legal frameworks such as the education and occupational safety health acts,” Ms Lamaro said.
As a result, the government yesterday issued stringent guidelines that must be followed by all schools, with the Ministry of Education warning to punish those that will defy them.
Government directed all education institutions to activate safety and security committees for staff and learners whose major role is to draw up and oversee implementation of safety and security policy.

Schools are also required to have controlled access to premises by putting in place a secure and non-porous perimeter fence high enough to prevent illegal entry and exit.
Schools with enough funds have been asked to put in place CCTV cameras and alarms.
Schools are also required to have guards at dormitories, preferably two per building,  one at the front and one at the back,  on a 12 hour shift.

Other guidelines
•       Have proper identification of all the people at the school by providing identification tags for teachers and uniforms for support staff.

•       Restrict entry to key installations like student dormitories, kitchen, water sources, and food stores.

•       Have specific teachers and students to be in charge of security at the schools operating on a 24 hour basis.

•       Keep school dormitories under lock and effectively guarded when students are in class

•       Confine sick students in sick bays or selected holding areas, under close monitoring by the staff

•       Conduct regular and snap checks of the students’ possessions and key installations to be able to detect dangerous materials like match boxes,  inflammables, acids and drugs before they may be used by some undisciplined students.

•       Manage undisciplined and criminal minded students and teachers and report as appropriate to the nearest Police Unit.

•       Institute crime prevention measures

•       Recruit and train guards

•       Put in place fire safety measures, like portable extinguishers, hose reels, fire hydrants, buckets filled with dry sand and water placed in strategic areas.

•       Have emergency plans and preparations

•       Ensure structural safety measures

•       Only single and double decker beds must be used in schools and students should not sleep on the floor.

•       Provision of at least 02 emergency exits for each dormitory.

•       Spacing between beds should be 0.6 meters apart and 03 meters off the wall.

•       Primary school children must have attendants all the time residing within the dormitory building.

•       Every dormitory should have an occupancy permit issued by competent authority.

•       All doors and windows should open outwards for ease of opening from within in case of emergency.

•       Have a safe alternative power source for emergency like solar, chargeable lamps

•       Have lightning arresters

•       Each classroom should have a provision for emergency exit