China orders preschool inspections after 3 toddlers die on school buses

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BEIJING (AP) — China has ordered tougher inspections of the country's mushrooming private preschools and kindergartens after the deaths of three toddlers who were left on school buses for up to seven hours, state media said Friday.

The latest incident occurred Monday when a two-year-old boy died after he was left on a bus for seven hours in Dongguan, a city in southern China's province of Guangdong, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Qiu Chenyang's mother put him on a bus to the Aixin Bilingual Kindergarten at 8:30 a.m. and when other children got off, the boy stayed on, perhaps as punishment for crying, Xinhua reported. School officials found him seven hours later and took him to a hospital, where he was declared dead from suffocation, it said. Temperatures in the area that day topped 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 Fahrenheit), it said. Qiu's death was being investigated, it said.

Xinhua said the Ministry of Education issued an urgent notice requiring local governments to thoroughly inspect private kindergartens because Qiu and two other toddler deaths in recent months occurred in private schools.

Chinese living standards have improved in step with the country's rapid economic growth, creating a large market for private — and often bilingual — daycare centers and schools. The sudden expansion of the lucrative business has made it hard to regulate.

Xinhua quoted the ministry as saying that authorities should check that schools employ only qualified teachers and drivers and require them to carefully count students as they get on and off school buses.

"Private kindergartens must make the safety of children their top priority," the notice was quoted as saying. Xinhua did not say when it was issued.

A 20-month old child died on Aug. 20 in Guangdong's Foshan city after being left on a school bus for six hours, it said. On May 29, a three-year-old in central China's Anhui province was found dead after being left for six hours on a bus.

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