Many parents and experts took differing stands on who is really responsible for the Baraim Al-Watan Girls School fire, despite investigations revealing that five students caused the fire.
But many were united in their view that the school should be blamed because the students were under their supervision and custody.
Five students admitted to having started the fire in the school. The girls set off the fire in the underground floor of the school while playing with a coal holder and then ran away from the scene to their classrooms when the blaze picked up, said Brig. Abdullah Jeddawi, director of Civil Defense in the city, on Wednesday. Two teachers were killed in the fire and 46 students injured.
With the girls admitting to committing the act, the chief of Jeddah General Courts, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Qeni was reported as saying to an Arabic daily that the students responsible for the fire could be tried in general courts if the families of the teachers who died in the fire file a lawsuit. The sheikh said the parents might have to pay the blood money to the families of the fire victims.
But many parents disagreed. “Parents are the guardians and keepers for students outside the school walls, but inside the school it is the teachers and supervisors who have this responsibility and they should keep an eye on the young girls,” said Suad Al-Saadi, 49-year-old stay-at-home mother.
“The school should be blamed and not the parents because the students were in their custody at the time (when the fire happened),” she added.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone because accidents happen and we are certain that those students didn’t mean to harm anyone,” said schoolteacher Hadi Abudouh, who stressed that teachers are not trained on how to react to crisis situations.
“Schoolteachers do not get the right training and do not know how to act when such accidents happen and I would blame the school principals and Civil Defense for not offering the crisis management training to the school guards,” he added.
According to 54-year-old mother, Intisar Saqqa, juvenile students should not be blamed and parents are not responsible for what happens inside schools. “Families of those who died should not ask for blood money because their daughters died saving young students,” she said.
“If they decided to ask for it then they should take it from the school owner for not installing fire alarms and not training the teachers and students on how to evacuate the school during a crisis,” she added.
The school board and administration are the one to be blamed for the fire, said Saleh Kurdi, 41-year-old marketer. “I’m shocked at how the sheikh did not mention the school’s role in all this; why aren’t the administration and the teachers blamed too,” he said.
“The door to the underground level was not locked and no one thought of checking on students who were missing from their classes. Don’t they think this mattered,” he added.
The school should pay the blood money and they should also pay the medical bills for those who were injured, according to Suliman Kabli, 57-year-old businessman.
“The parents are already paying for their children who were injured in the fire and I think the school should be paying for it in the first place,” he said.
Another mother felt that parents should file a lawsuit against the school. “This is going the wrong way; how could mothers supervise their wards in school and how can they be responsible for children’s act when they are not with them,” said Salha Alwajeih.
“The school’s job is not just to educate, but it also plays a major role in the raising and upbringing of children. Schools are responsible for children as long as they are inside the campus and that’s where the accident happened. I think the school should take full responsibility,” she added.