07/14/12 – According to authorities, a federal program in Mexico intended to better protect schools is expanding nationwide. The Escuela Segura (Safe School) program is a joint operation between the Secretary of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública, SEP) and the Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) that seeks to provide heightened protection of both public and private schools to ultimately keep schools safe from the high levels of violence and crime that Mexico faces.
While Escuela Segura has been largely focused thus far in Nuevo León, the federal government is growing its scope and reach. According to José Aguirre Vázquez, the program’s national coordinator, by the start of the school year this fall, all schools nationwide will receive a formal manual on Escuela Segura to be used to instruct teachers and staff on how to better safeguard their schools and classrooms, and how to act when a danger presents itself. The SEP is already circulating an electronic version of the handbook. The expansion will also include courses and trainings so that, as Vázquez notes, school staff and administration “will know how to stay calm, give clear and precise instructions, so that they guarantee the safety of the students, and widely coordinate with the students’ families.”
While schools are threatened by acts of theft, extortion, vandalism, etc., Vázquez seems to be more specifically referencing the fact that schools in Mexico are occasionally victims of drug-related violence–being caught in the middle of violent shootouts between rival gangs and/or public security forces, which jeopardize the safety of students, teachers, and staff. Despite Escuela Segura’s success in Nuevo León in decreasing crimes like vandalism and theft–which were reported down by as much as 50% in some areas, and hence the government’s decision to continue the program through the summer months– the SEP reported that over 20 such shootouts nevertheless affected schools in Nuevo León and neighboring Tamaulipas this past academic year. States like these with higher levels of violence will continue being the program’s priority, said Vázquez, citing that 90% of the 47,000 school buildings currently participating in the program are located in just 358 municipalities nationwide. The program’s expansion, however, seeks to at least provide all schools in Mexico with the program’s basic training materials.
The implementation of Escuela Segura largely rests on the Secretary of Public Security (SSP), and state and local police forces. However, SSP Director Arturo Bermúdez Zurita emphasized that just as essential, however, is the participation from the citizens who live and work in the school’s neighborhoods, underscoring how important it is for them to report any suspicious activity to authorities.