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China to Improve School Safety After Trampling Tragedy
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The Chinese government will tighten safety provisions in elementary and secondary schools after six children were trampled to death at a school in east China.


Local education departments should conduct thorough inspections of corridors and stairways and check school buildings, canteens, dormitories and bathrooms, Education Minister Zhou Ji said Monday at a teleconference on school administration.


Six middle school students, five boys and a girl aged 12 and 13, died and 39 were injured in east China's Jiangxi Province on Saturday evening. "The root of the accident lies in the school's faulty management," Zhou said. "The accident has taught us a hard lesson and exposed serious safety risks in schools."



Photo taken on November 19 shows the staircase where the deadly stampede happened, at Tutang Middle School, Duchang County, east China's Jiangxi Province.


The ministry would evaluate the work of school principals who played a key role in safety and had ultimate responsibility for safety administration, Zhou said.


Meanwhile, Vice Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun told the meeting that school hygiene standards were "alarming." "More than 70 percent of public health incidents occur in schools and more than 80 percent involve the spread of infectious diseases," Jiang said.


Sanitary conditions at most schools in rural China are bad and threaten food and drinking water safety. "Food poisoning and diseases caused by unsanitary water occur frequently," Jiang said.


Last month 18 children fell ill after eating lunch in a kindergarten in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and earlier in October 56 children between three and six-years-old fell ill after eating at a nursery school in Jiangxi.


Principals who failed to meet the standards would be demoted and those whose dereliction of duty or misconduct caused accidents would be seriously punished, Zhou Ji said.


The local government of Jiujiang City, where the tragedy occurred, seems to hold that the school be responsible for the accident. The principal has been detained by the local authorities.


Earlier this month a primary school principal in southwest China was sacked over a food poisoning incident in late September that affected 92 pupils of whom 23 were hospitalized.


Jiang called for more communication and coordination between health and education departments to strengthen disease prevention and outbreak monitoring in schools.


According to the Education Ministry, the country has more than 450,000 elementary and secondary schools with more than 210 million students and over 120,000 kindergartens with 22 million children.


Zhou also called for immediate measures to eliminate safety risks involving food poisoning, student fights and other significant incidents.


Students in school trampling stable


Eleven students who were seriously injured in the trampling accident were in a stable condition on Monday afternoon, said the local hospital.


Two of the injured have already been transferred from intensive care units (ICU) to ordinary wards, said Wu Chongjie, assistant president of Jiujiang First People's Hospital. Wu said three others are still being treated in the ICU but were in a stable condition.



A student injured in the deadly stampede is treated at a hospital in Jiujiang, east China's Jiangxi Province, on November 19.


In the intensive care unit, Liu Yingying, the most seriously injured child according to the hospital, was playing with gifts people had brought her. Liu Zaozheng, her ward mate was eating his favorite dumplings and Duan Lixia, who sustained stomach injuries in the accident, was reading in bed.


When they were hospitalized early on Sunday morning the two Lius were comatose and had suffered serious lung injuries. Wu said that physical treatment was being supplemented by counseling for the injured students.


A first-grade student who witnessed the accident said he saw someone squatting down to tie up his shoelaces on a staircase in the three-storey building. The events that followed are unclear but another student, Jiang Minxu, from a Grade two class, said that more than 100 students fell on top of each other as their momentum carried them forward.


"Teachers quickly climbed from the first floor to the second floor using drainpipes on the outside of the building," said Jiang. "They helped the students up one by one."


When the stampede occurred teachers were correcting students' mid-term exam papers in an office on the first floor of the building. It appears many students were unsupervised in the school which has 50 teachers for 1,600 students. There are six grade-one classrooms in the building, each holding about 100 students.


The school principal has been detained by the local authorities and the Jiujiang government held a school safety meeting on Sunday for primary and middle school principals in the area and conducted safety inspections.


Each family of the dead students has been given 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) in compensation and local authorities are trying to establish the exact cause of the accident. The incident raises further concerns about safety management in Chinese primary and middle schools.


Eight children were killed in a similar stampede in October 2005 in a primary school in southwest China's Sichuan Province when students were going home after evening classes.


And in October 2005 a boy was killed and 64 other pupils injured in a stampede in a primary school in Xinjiang when part of a stairway collapsed.


(Xinhua News Agency November 21, 2006)

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