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The Uttarakhand High Court has passed an interim order prohibiting private schools in the state from sending emails and WhatsApp messages asking parents of students to pay tuition fee for conducting online classes during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
The direction was passed by a Division Bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice RC Khulbe in two PILs alleging that private schools in the state were coercing parents to pay tuition fees.
The petitioners highlighted that this action of the schools was in direct contradiction with the Government Order issued on May 2 which clearly stated that only private unaided schools conducting online classes were allowed to collect tuition fees, and that the payment of such fees would be voluntary.
It was pointed out to the Court that some of the schools even claimed to conduct online classes even for Upper Kindergarten students. For the same, e-mails and WhatsApp messages were being sent calling upon parents to pay tuition fees. This move was adopted by the schools only to collect tuition fees from gullible parents, the petitioner submitted.
The plea also submitted that since Uttarakhand was a hilly and a poor state, several of its inhabitants lacked internet access, as a result of which many children were not able to participate in online classes conducted by the schools. However, the private School authorities gave absolute disregard to this fact and continued to resort to such steps, the petitioners added.
Taking serious note of the petitioners' submissions, the Division Bench passed the following directions:
The State shall appoint District Education Officer and Block Development Officer, in each district, to be the Nodal Officers so that parents can address their complaints pertaining to coercion of tuition fees payment.
Wide publicity to be given in the media informing the people in the State, that they can address their grievance in this regard to the Nodal Officers.
On receipt of any such complaints, the concerned Nodal Officers
to take prompt action against the erring educational institutions who are coercing parents in violation of Government Order dated May 2.
Since the Government Order enables only those institutions which run online classes to collect tuition fees, it is only those students, who are able to access the online course being offered by the private educational institutions, who would be required to pay the tuition fee, if they choose to do so.
Children, who do not have access to the online course, cannot be
asked to pay the tuition fee.
The Secretary, School Education will call for information from all
the District Education Officers regarding the number of private schools, in their respective districts, which offer online courses, and the number of students who have access to such online courses.
Information shall be obtained from each of these private schools as to whether tuition fees is being collected even from those students who have no access to the online course offered by the schools, and whether these schools have collected tuition fees from such students also.
The Secretary, School Education to furnish information
regarding online classes being conducted by private schools for Upper
Kindergarten students as well.
While passing the order, the Court also observed that the intent of the Government Order passed on May 2 was to reduce the burden of financially distressed parents who did not have any means to pay the school fees of their children.
"The object of the Government Order dated 02.05.2020 is to ease the burden on parents, who do not even have the means to earn their livelihood in this period of crisis, in being required to pay the huge fees which these private institutions charge. While the difficulties of these institutions, in having to incur expenditure without collecting fees from its students, is understandable, times of crisis like these would require the haves to extend a helping hand to the have-nots. The Government Order dated 02.05.2020 binds these private schools and, as long as it continues to remain in force, they are bound to adhere to the conditions stipulated therein."
Uttarakhand High Court
The matter will next be heard on May 26.
[Read the order here]