Owners of 22 private schools in Jeddah have complained to the governorate against the decision of the safety committee of the Civil Defense to evacuate and close down their schools for lack of technical and constructional safety, local Arabic daily Al-Madinah reported on Monday.
Some of the owners claimed they have implemented many of the committee’s points of address. Others have asked to be allowed to follow up on construction and maintenance issues after the end of the current academic year.
The owners said there was no justification to close their schools down now, as they were opened on licenses granted by the Ministry of Education and the Civil Defense. Civil Defense said most of the schools were housed in rented buildings unsuitable for educational facilities. It added that the previous licenses granted to them should not be used as a pretext to continue running these schools without sufficient safety measures.
Malik bin Talib, chairman of the committee for private education in the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in an apparent support to the school proprietors, described the decision of Civil Defense to close the schools as illogical.
“These schools opened their doors on the approval of the concerned authorities and are tied by contracts with students and teachers. How can they be asked to close down now?” he questioned.
He said Civil Defense’s urgent points could be executed during the weekends or in the evenings, while the points that would require time to implement, should be postponed until the end of the school year. “The only radical solution to this problem is that each school should construct its own building. This cannot be realized as there are no empty plots of lands at reasonable prices in Jeddah,” he said. Talib asked the Ministry of Education, which owns many pieces of land in various districts in the city, to give them out to the private schools. “The aim of private and public education is the same. They both strive to provide high-quality education to the sons and daughters of this country,” he said. Asked about the decision of Civil Defense to close down the schools, Talib said the owners took their case to the governorate and were still waiting for a reply.
Yousuf Al-Habbab, another school owner, accused the Civil Defense committee of not making its decision on clear grounds. “The committee addressed the issue of the number of fire extinguishers and emergency exits. These were followed up immediately. Why did the committee then ask for the closure of these schools?” he asked.
Al-Habbab said there are 86 disabled students and 16 others suffering from autism among the normal students in his school. “What will be the fate of these students with special needs if the school is closed down?” he questioned.
Ibtissam Al-Jidaibi, the owner of a girl school, said some of the concerns about the lack of fire extinguishers and warning systems — on which the Civil Defense built its closure decision — had been implemented. She said she was astonished that the Civil Defense committee also mentioned that the school was near a public restaurant.
Director of Civil Defense Brig. Abdullah Jiddawi said most of the private schools in the city were not originally designed to be educational facilities. “Most of them were being housed in rented buildings which lacked safety measures,” he said. Jiddawi asked the owners not to continue in running their schools on the pretext of the previous license issued by the Civil Defense. “There is no logic in using a previous approval to continue in unsuitable buildings,” he said.
He refuted school owners’ claims that Civil Defense gave them too little time to address all points. Jiddawi said this was not the concern of Civil Defense. “They should discuss this issue with the Ministry of Education,” he said.