How students planned and executed burning of dormitories

A parent tries to salvage the remains of his son's box at Itierio Boys High School in Kisii County after seven dormitories were set a blaze on June 26, 2016. Before the matchbox was struck to set alight the first dormitory, the students also disconnected electricity supply to the school. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Investigators were baffled how all the water tanks could be emptied without any of the teachers or support staff noticing.
  • They then spilled the petrol, lit the fire and reportedly created a buffer zone in the form of a human shield around the dormitories.
  • The report also reveals that students of Tengecha High bribed the guards to be allowed to sneak mobile phones into their dormitories.

Shocking details have emerged of how students of Itierio Boys High School in Kisii hatched an elaborate plot to burn down seven dormitories last weekend.

In what appeared to have been a well-executed plan that has puzzled the nation and shocked the education sector, the students sneaked in 20 litres of petrol which they used to light the fire, according to a confidential report by the Education ministry and security officials.

The report also covers the fire incident at Tengecha High School in Kericho, in January.

According to the findings seen by the Sunday Nation, the students at Itierio — an institution that once produced top footballers, some of whom played for national team Harambee Stars — drained all the water from the eight giant tanks to make it harder to put out the fire.

Investigators were baffled how all the water tanks could be emptied without any of the teachers or support staff noticing.

Before the matchbox was struck to set alight the first dormitory, the students also disconnected electricity supply to the school, says the joint report of the Teachers Service Commission, the Education ministry and a county security team dated June 29, 2016.

They then spilled the petrol, lit the fire and reportedly created a buffer zone in the form of a human shield around the dormitories, perhaps to bar anyone from putting out the fire before it spread.

The investigators suspect the students may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs judging by the extent of the damage.

There are testimonies, says the report, “that some (student) leaders reported (the issue of drugs) to the deputy principal but no action was taken against them”.

Investigators also established that there had been differences between the principal and his deputy, which perhaps could have hindered communication that could have helped pre-empt the situation.

The report, which was presented to top Education ministry officials, including Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, says a change in school routine was largely to blame for the students’ actions - which prompted the institutions’ closure last week.

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The report says school administrators, under the leadership of the principal, introduced stringent measures that were borrowed from Litein Boys High School following a benchmarking trip to the institution in Kericho County.

The measures included cutting down on entertainment, closing of dormitories throughout class time and a reduction of lunch break to only 20 minutes to make time for a “speed test” in mathematics.

“The deputy head implemented the new regulations when the head teacher was attending the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association meeting in Mombasa,” says the report, which also adds that a suggestion box for the students was not placed at a location that allowed giving of feedback freely.

The report said the changes were abrupt and that student views were not taken into consideration.

The investigators found that corporal punishment was rampant at the schools. For example, students found to have broken the new rules at Itierio Boys were likely to get 35 strokes of the cane.

The report notes that teachers could not provide information to the investigators as they said they were not at school at the time of the incident.

It also points out that a case in which the students stoned a vehicle belonging to neighbouring Itierio Girls School was handled casually, a sign of the administration’s inability to effectively address discipline issues.

The report recommends an immediate change of the principal and his deputy. The deputy has been at the school for 23 years.

It also recommends the transfer of seven teachers who have taught in the school for more than 10 years each.

A teacher who was implicated in corporal punishment at the school, the report recommends, should be disciplined.

It also recommends that prime suspects in the arson attack be investigated, apprehended and prosecuted. It proposes the fencing off of the school compound and advocates open student barazas which should be held regularly.

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Further, security guards should be given contracts and suggestion boxes put at locations that students are comfortable with.

At Tengecha High School, where three dormitories were set ablaze on January 21, the investigators established that all teachers meant to be on duty were not at school at the time.

“It was established that at one time, the two masters on duty were present at the school but seemed to have made technical appearances and left without informing one another,” the report says.

The team established that security officers led the students out of the burning dormitories.

“The keys to the dormitory gate were with three people — the watchman, dormitory master and the prefect,” adds the report.

Investigators reported simmering tension between the Form Three and Four students, with the former feeling that they were being treated unfairly by their seniors over who was to take part in an English contest in the institution.

“The Form Three students felt they were being unfairly denied an opportunity to attend,” the report said.

The report also reveals that students of Tengecha High bribed the guards to be allowed to sneak mobile phones into their dormitories.

As a result, the report said, students tampered with the electricity connection as they charged the mobile phones.

Education ministry officials, however, described the report as insufficient and asked local administrators at the sub-county and school to seek more information and provide it by Friday.

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