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Learning Paralysed As Parents Protest Against ‘Unrealistic’ Fire Penalties.

Over 300 Kimuchu Secondary School parents in Thika West Sub-County staged a protest outside the school premises against the administration’s move to charge ‘exorbitant’ penalties to cater for the damages resulting from two fires that broke out in the institution last term.

The parents sought to know how the school management arrived at a figure of sh. 3,800 for each student and who the actual culprits since, by the time the fire broke out at 5 pm, the students had already left home. They also wondered why, despite each parting with Sh. 700 annually for insurance cover for both medical and property, they were still being required to pay for the fire damage. They described the amount passed by board as unrealistic and unacceptable saying as parents, they were entitled to know why the bill was so high yet the damage incurred could not even amount to Sh. 500,000.

The irate parents stormed the school on Tuesday morning where they threatened to kick out the school principal Ms. Leah Gitahi who they termed as arrogant and fond of using abusive language to them whenever they raised the issue with her.

“During our previous meeting with the principle, she notified the parents that the school only lost a printer and a computer to the fire. We were the ones who put off the fire before it could cause extensive damage. It was therefore unbelievable when we got a fees structure indicating we were each required to part with Sh. 3,800 for the damage,” retorted Pater Muthiora, a parent in the school.

Pauline Wanjiru wondered how the school’s board of management worked out the figures without the parents’ input.

“This is totally unacceptable. We will not accept to part with the cash until we thoroughly analyse the actual cost of the damage. The school has 450 students and therefore they want us to pay sh. 1.7 million so as to buy a computer, a photocopier and some exercise books whose worth is less than sh. 300,000. This is a joke and robbery in broad daylight and we won’t accept it. They are just scheming to siphon the few coins that have remained in our pockets after paying the required school fees,” Wanjiku said.

“The cost of replacing the destroyed items should be settled by all stakeholders in this school. Our children didn’t burn the said items and there’s no way we will allow them to burden us with the cost. Why can’t the insurance premiums that we pay annually facilitate the replacement of the damaged properties? With this we feel that the school’s management is crooked and they want to pocket our money,” Githongo Ng’ang’a said.

The parents accused the school management of denying them access to the affected store and office in a bid to authentically assess the damages adding that this was a ploy by the management to fleece the parents in the guise of recovering for the damages.

“How do you justify paying for damages that have been concealed from public scrutiny? We cannot pay for unseen damages. This school is in our neighbourhood and when the two fires broke out, we were the ones (who rushed) to put them out. We know whatever burnt cannot add up to the amount the school is demanding for. The two fires broke out on different dates but were contained in time before they could spread to other rooms," said Muthiora.

The parents now want the conduct of the school head her board to be investigated so as to establish if at all there was any form of abuse of office or conduct that was geared towards obtaining money fraudulently.
In a swift rejoinder, the school principal dismissed the allegations saying that it was a directive from Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i that parents would bear the cost of repairing schools that had been torched.

Gitahi said that some two students had been arrested and arraigned in a Thika court in connection to the fire that gutted the school’s store and her office destroying a desktop, a photocopier, exercise and text books and printed papers.

“We suspected that a student we had earlier expelled over drug abuse together with a friend were behind the arson attacks” Gitahi said.

She promised to convene a meeting with the parents soon in order to shed light on the issue.
One of the students arrested, who spoke to the Thika Town Today in camera, said that at the time of arson, he was not in school and that he was picked from home by the authorities.

“I think the school administration wanted to just find a scapegoat and it happened to be me and another student. I was perplexed when I heard that the school had been torched only to be told that I was part of the attack,” he said.

On July 23rd this year, the school principal is said to have received a call from a woman in Makongeni warning her that some students intended to burn the school. She immediately summoned the students to a parade attended by area chief and local bishops, pleading with them not to burn the school before dismissing them to go home.

However, that evening, a member of staff called her to inform her that a fire had broken out in the store.

On July 26th, she convened a parents’ meeting where she informed them that the school had lost a printer in the fire. A day later, another fire broke out in the bursar's office and was contained before it could spread to the office of the principal.

“We cannot rule out students’ involvement, but we do smell a rat since we were aware of some misunderstanding and disagreements between the principal and the teachers. We are wondering why the school would prevent us from viewing the damaged property,” said a parent.

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