For more insights into Sao Paulo, see American Exbrat in São Paulo.
The next installment of the Safe in São Paulo collaboration between Born Again Brazilian and Brazil in My Eyes focuses on school safety.
Probably one of the number one worries for those of us with children of school age is how safe they are at any moment out of our personal care. Fortunately many of us have our children in excellent private schools that take care of not only the mental well-being of our kids, but also the physical security.
There are some ways you can make your kids safer in the moments when you are not with them, or when you are passing them off to or getting them from the school.
If your school has a drive-by entrance to the school, be a responsible parent and move along quickly. Do not get out of your car. Let security guards help.
If you need to park your car, try to do so on a busier street. Be alert. The moment of putting your kids into or taking your kids out of the car is a very vulnerable one. Also remember that São Paulo drivers do not necessarily obey crosswalk laws, or give you space to get your kids in the car.
If you have a private driver, please register them with your school: documents and photo. If your school does not have a procedure for this, you should insist on it. If you have a taxi driver pick up your kid, use the same one every time and also register him/her with the school.
If your kids are over the age of 5, make sure to work out with them a password. And a challenge question. For instance, a new person picks them up somewhere. Your child should challenge that person with a “What is the password?” Person answers: “orange.” And the challenge question…how many World Cups has Uruguay won, or some such thing. If the challenge question is answered wrong, then the child should know that they should not go with that person.
Outside of School
For those of you with kids who are a little older and have entered the moment of electronic gadgets and smartphones, your challenge is teaching them the appropriate times to use them. Outside the school, walking to the taxi stand, or hanging around with friends on a street corner are not the times to show your $1500 iPhone, iPad Mini, etc. To a robber, this is waving candy in front of his face. Easy to overpower, easily frightened, the pre teen is exceptionally one to target. Smartphones should not be in use, walking around and chatting. If your kid must have one, tell him or her to put it out of sight once they are out of school. Consider having a smaller “dumber” cell phone for use by your kids.
I will never forget the look on the face of the captain of the local military police at a Conseg (neighborhood security) meeting while a mom from one of the local private schools complained that her son was robbed of his iPad. This is a public service employee in Brazil—he may or may not have funds to get one for his own kid. The captain said “do me a favor, Senhora, tell the kids to put the electronics away. They are making my job harder.” Yes, the police have their work keeping the streets safe and we, as parents, have our job of keeping our kids cognizant of their actions.
Street smarts with school kids
Do not wander around malls and other public places (streets) with your kids in their school uniforms. Bring a change of shirt for them to wear if you must go somewhere right after school. Don’t target your school. If your kid wears nice trousers and emblemmed shirts to school, you are probably paying a lot of money to put them there. Who do you think the bad guy will follow? You.
Based on military police advice, we recommend not posting photos of children in their school uniforms as your profile or cover photos in facebook. Do not use “locator” features unless the event has already happened and you are no longer there. In general, post only about events that have happened, not about what will happen. As in, don’t post that you are leaving for school or do a foursquare check-in. If you feel the need to tell people that you were somewhere, say “I am back from xxx” when you get home. Most of the time there is no need to tell people where your kid goes to school: it’s expensive, they’re all expensive, good for you.
Do not tag other people’s children in photos. They may not want you to. Or ask first. In general, don’t post photos of other people’s children unless you have permission.
School Area Law:
In 2007, under then-mayor Gilberto Kassab, a law was enacted that established a “School Area” around every school, measuring 100 meters in radius. You can read more about this law (if you understand legalese and Portuguese legalese at that) but know that it encompasses many items including regulating where pornography and liquor stores can be in this proximity, traffic, graffiti, and most interesting to us: prevention of crime. (link: http://www.areaescolar.com.br/conheca.php)
So, how to put this into action. Thanks to a very handy manual (link: http://www.sampublicidade.com.br/manual_aes/), again in Portuguese, that was the initiative of the local representative (you can see his photo on the back), you can put together an evaluation of your school’s security, a plan of action, and involve the important stakeholders in this law (parents, teachers, local police force, traffic cops, etc). This is a long-term approach but an important one. If you don’t have a security committee for your school, think about making one.
Many neighborhoods, in conjunction with parents of local schoolchildren, are putting together groups on facebook and email to share security information and put pressure on local authorities to better police school areas. A recent rash of robberies in the Pinheiros neighborhood put the neighborhood on alert—and through quick-thinking residents, at least one of the criminals has been caught by the police. Consider attending your local Conseg (neighborhood security) meeting to find out what is happening near you.
If you have concerns about security within the walls and in the immediate vicinity of your school, bring it up at the next PTA meeting or get in contact with the head of your school. Don’t count on someone else to do it; get involved.
In regards to security outside of school, remember that public spaces are exactly that. They should be available to everyone, regardless of age, race, financial conditions. Putting schools in bubbles is not the answer: making safer streets for everyone is. It is a critical step in our kids good citizens as well. Find your neighborhood associations (Alto de Pinheiros and Morumbi have particularly strong security associations) and get involved. Go to the local security meetings (Conseg). Know your local police captain. To reverse Robert Frost’s thoughts: “Good neighbors make good fences.” A community working together to protect everyone is for the good of all.