Abu Dhabi: A private school here has been held responsible for the 2014 death of a four-year-old child, and the closure of Al Worood Academy Private School has been upheld by the Abu Dhabi Cassation Court.
The school was first ordered to shut down at the end of its 2014-2015 academic year following the death of four-year-old Nizahaa Aala’a in October 2014. Aala’a, a kindergarten pupil from India, had been locked inside a school bus for five hours and succumbed to heat exhaustion. The Cassation Court, Abu Dhabi emirate’s highest judicial institution, concluded that this pointed to a lack of adherence to health, security and safety standards by the school in a way that endangered the lives of students.
As reported by Gulf News, the school, which had about 1,900 students enrolled in 2014-2015, was formally investigated by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) following Aala’a’s death. Investigators found that Aala’a was locked in the school bus between 7am and 12pm. She had eaten her breakfast and drunk all the water she was carrying. When she was finally discovered, Aala’a had been dead for at least two hours. She was found near the door of the bus with injuries to her head and in a position that suggested she had been banging on the door for help.
According to the investigation, the school had not notified Aala’a’s parents of her absence from school, despite strict Adec regulations that specify parents must be informed if children do not come to school. The school also did not check to reconcile bus logs with class attendance, and such a step may have allowed for an earlier discovery that Aala’a was not present in school despite boarding the bus.
The Adec ordered the closure of the school at the end of that academic year, and offered alternative school seats to all students. It took over the administrative and financial supervision of the school for the remainder of the year, and also rejected the school’s appeal to continue operations.
The school then filed a lawsuit to challenge the closure decision, arguing that Aala’a’s accidental death had been an isolated incident. This was rejected by the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance, which upheld Adec’s closure decision.
The school then appealed the closure at the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals, but it also upheld the closure verdict. The case was then forwarded to the Cassation Court, which again upheld the verdict of permanent closure.
The Adec highlighted to the Cassation Court that it holds the right to immediately cancel a school’s licence if the institution is found to be grossly negligent of students’ health and safety. It also said the incident was not isolated but an indication of the school’s lack of priority for health and safety standards. As proof, it said the school had used the services of a transportation company that was not licensed to transport school students by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Transport or the Adec, and that the bus driver had himself been untrained for the responsibility. Before locking it up, no one had checked the bus to ensure that all students had disembarked. Moreover, the vehicle had not been equipped with CCTV cameras, in keeping with Adec regulations, and that this had contributed to Aala’a’s demise.
As reported earlier, school employees found to be responsible for Aala’a’s death were sentenced to jail by the Court of Appeals; the driver in question served a six-month jail term and the bus attendant was imprisoned for a year. The attendant, driver and a school employee in charge of students’ bus use were also asked to pay Dh20,000 with suspension. The school itself was asked by the Court of Appeals to pay Dh100,000 in blood money, and a Dh50,000 fine.