Sun, Aug 05, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Children’s safety is a paramount concern

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

Taiwan is highly prone to typhoons and flooding and this is why we have the Operation Regulations on the Suspension of Offices and Classes because of Natural Disasters (天然災害停止辦公及上課作業辦法). In the years that these regulations have been in effect, in order to avoid conflicts and public complaints, city and county governments have become inclined to announce the suspension of work when classes are suspended due to typhoons.

The main reason is that, as many people have commented, there is nobody to look after their children when classes are suspended. Suspending work when classes have been suspended is thus a response to the issue of Taiwan’s smaller families and family structure. However, as soon as work and classes are suspended on days when the weather turns out to be fine, people start complaining. They sometimes even direct their anger at the Central Weather Bureau (CWB), although such populist complaints ignore the technical limits of weather forecasting.

In such circumstances, city and county leaders often face a tough decision on whether to suspend work and classes. As a side effect, child safety is easily overlooked, especially as there are no safety regulations for protecting students from the dangers of natural disasters. The main point is that students, especially young children and toddlers, are the country’s future leaders and their safety is paramount.

For example, the last time classes and work were suspended in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) due to strong rain, the announcement did not come until after 9am, when people had already gone to work and school. Having parents pick up their children from school at this time could lead to even greater safety risks.

There are three main reasons why the government should draft new regulations to protect students and children.

First, students require special attention. Elementary-school children and infants are at greater physical risk of being injured on the way to and from class and on various modes of transport during a typhoon. Therefore, there should be looser criteria for suspending classes to avoid putting children in harm’s way.

Second, educational institutions have a responsibility to protect students. In addition to government departments, educational institutions — including public and private schools and kindergartens — all have a responsibility to guarantee student safety. Therefore, even when poor weather merits an official suspension of work and school, educational institutions cannot ignore their responsibility to guarantee student safety merely because they their work day has been cancelled. Put simply, when the weather becomes too extreme, it is a much safer option for students to stay temporarily at their schools and kindergartens. Staff at such places should not shirk their responsibility to protect the children.

Third, the various dangers students can face during a typhoon must be clarified. Educational institutions should consider the increased risks from stronger winds and heavy rain and what sort of protection students should be given on their way to and from school. The responsibility of educational institutions to guarantee student safety should be made clear in legal regulation.

It is the government’s responsibility to give comprehensive thought to these issues and devise regulations to protect student safety before, during and after a natural disaster. The government needs to devise clearer regulations for the procedure of class suspension in order to ensure student safety.

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