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School Accidents: Who Can Be Blamed?

Two years ago, a primary school teacher was replenishing an alcohol heater with ethyl alcohol while teaching students how to cook when an accident happened, leaving 5 students burned, two seriously. The school has so far paid 680,000 yuan (US$82,225) for medical expenses and other compensation, but the case remains open.

Accidents like this on school grounds have been increasing in China, and in most of those cases where the school is liable, both the schools and teachers involved have been held accountable. To avoid accidents and their complicated and expensive aftermath, many schools have taken to canceling from the physical education curriculum activities involving risk such as the horizontal bar in gymnastics.

“Because of public pressure and because we don’t have legal guarantees or a good system to handle other problems in the aftermath of an accident, we have to take such measures. When we find the slightest risks of an activity, I definitely will not allow my students to do it even though the activity actually might be beneficial to most students,” said the head of one school.

In Shanghai, lawmakers are looking at ways to find a better solution.

A draft of Shanghai’s Regulation on Handling Accidents in Primary and Middle Schools, the first of its kind in China, was passed by the Standing Committee of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress on July 13. In case of an accident, the school involved will assume the liability for fault, and any students who are hurt will be compensated through the school’s liability accident insurance.

The regulation, for the first time, makes it clear that a school is responsible for educating, managing and protecting its students, and the school should assume its responsibility for its fault in a accident which happens on its ground. If the school is blameless, then the parties concerned should share expenses according to an equitable arrangement.

The regulation requires various schools to buy liability accident insurances and set up a fund themselves as well to ensure a source for compensation.

The municipal education commission will organize schools to buy insurance with a premium of three yuan (US$0.36) for each registered student. In case of a campus accident and the school is found of being responsible for the accident, the insurer, the Pingan Insurance Shanghai Branch will pay each student a maximum amount of 200,000 yuan (US$24,155) annually.

Some law experts in Shanghai hold that strengthening legislation is key to handling school accidents. As to what legal and financial responsibilities a school and teachers concerned should assume in a case of a school accident, the existing Chinese Law for the Protection of Minors and Compulsory Education Law and Teachers’ Law set no specific rules.

Many teachers said they welcome a system that defines by law the liability of schools and teachers in case of an accident.

At present, even if an accident happens when students happen to fall during a school activity or are just playing among themselves or anything else outside the control of teachers or administration, the student’s parents nevertheless will file a lawsuit against the school for compensation. As unjust as they may think this, schools will meet parents’ demands.

Deputies to the municipal people’s congress have been paying particular attention to the handling of such school accidents. They put forward four pieces of legislative motions and 12 other written proposals. The municipal government began in 1996 to study such legislation, and deliberated and modified the aforesaid regulation many times before it was endorsed.

Yet all these efforts seems to be far from enough to help the society take a rational attitude toward school accidents and help promote education aimed at improving students’ ability to understand their own limits through individual development and creativity.

Most school teachers think that that the loss outweighs the gain when schools – in order to avoid some minor accidents -- eliminate activities beneficial to the healthy development of children.

But parents sometimes see it the other way, believing that administrators should pay more attention to strengthening safety management at school to avoid accidents. They agree that the best way for schools to avoid accidents would be for them to take money earmarked for compensation in school accidents and instead upgrade in a timely fashion school facilities and implement more safety measures at school.

(CIIC 07/25/2001)

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