Monday, September 9, 2013

Safe in São Paulo - Post V - School Security

As part of our continuing Monday series on safety in São Paulo, Born Again Brazilian and Brazil in My Eyes take a look at school safety.

School Security

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.

Drop Off/Pick-Up

If your school has a “drive-through” entrance to the school, be a responsible parent and move along quickly. Don’t get out of your car; let security guards help. 

If you park your car to take your kids into school, 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, 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, try to 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. For instance, a new person picks them up somewhere. Your child should challenge that person with a challenge question…what’s the name of my first dog, or something that only a trusted person would know. Of course most of us do not have unknown (to our kids) people picking up our kids. But it’s good to be prepared.

Let’s also mention that it really doesn’t help anything to scare small kids about security. My kids recently asked about why we travel in a bulletproof car. And I explained to them that the issue was not bullets; it was preventing someone from smashing a window and taking mommy’s purse. They don’t need more than that. And I will say that the Portuguese for “bulletproof” is much better—it is “blindado”. Blindado means “protected”—nothing more, nothing less. That is all kids need to know: that they are being protected.

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. If your kid must have these gadgets, tell him or her to put them 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

Try not to visit malls and other public places (metro or 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. You risk becoming a target. 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.

Online security

Based on military police advice, we recommend not posting photos of children in their school uniforms as your profile or cover photos in facebook. Profile and cover photos are completely public domain. Do a search on an acquaintance on facebook—note that no matter what they have hidden behind a privacy “wall”, the cover photo and profile photo are for anyone to see. Yes, if you google yourself, you’ll also see photos of yourself, but probably not your kids.

We suggest not using “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. Also, don’t 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.

For more information on online privacy and security, you may want to check this Huffington Post article.

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.

So, how to put this into action. Thanks to a very handy manual, 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  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, etc. 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.

Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall says “Good fences make good neighbors.” To reverse Robert Frost’s thoughts: “Good neighbors make good fences.” We are all more secure if we are a community rather than a collection of individuals.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to improve your house or apartment security. Have a great week!

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