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Private Schools Cannot Takes Fee From Students Who Do Not Have Access To Online Classes: Uttarakhand HC

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The Uttarakhand High Court at Nainital, on Tuesday has directed the State Government to appoint nodal officers who should take prompt action against private schools on coercing parents to pay the tuition fees of their children’s.

The court also directed the Secretary, School Education to 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 and furnish information regarding online classes being conducted by private schools for Upper Kindergarten students.

Multiple PILs were filed before the High Court of Uttarakhand on the basis of complaint that the private schools are coercing parents to pay tuition fees though the Government Order dated 2nd May, 2020 made payment of tuition fees by parents’ voluntary. The matter was heard by the Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan along with his companion Judge, Justice R.C. Khulbe, Uttarakhand High Court.

Brief facts are that the State Government issued an order on 02nd May, 2020, in furtherance of its earlier order dated 22nd April, 2020, whereby private unaided schools in the State were permitted to conduct classes online. In terms of the Government Order, these private schools were prohibited from collecting any fees other than tuition fees. This facility for collecting tuition fee was extended to private unaided schools only in cases where they were conducting online classes for its students. The private unaided schools, which were not conducting online classes, were prohibited even from collecting tuition fees from its students. These schools, which were also required to pay the salaries of their teachers and staff from their own funds, were directed to strictly adhere to the instructions issued in the Government Order issued on 2nd May, 2020.

The complaint in the two writ petitions, among others, was that the private schools were coercing parents to pay tuition fees though the Government Order on 2nd May, 2020 made payment of tuition fees by parents voluntary; some of these schools claimed to conduct online classes even for Upper Kindergarten students (i.e. children even below Class 1); this ruse has been adopted only to collect tuition fees from gullible parents; e-mails and WhatsApp messages were being sent by these schools calling upon parents to pay tuition fees of their children, though the Government Order required payment of fees to be voluntary; and, since the State of Uttarakhand is a hilly and poor State, several of its inhabitants lack internet access resulting in their children not being able to participate in the online classes conducted by the schools, despite which they are being forced to pay the tuition fees for their children.

The court observed that a statutory obligation was cast on private unaided schools, under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, to provide free education to certain categories of students who can ill-afford to pay the fees. Further, all private unaided schools in the State, be it affiliated to the State Board or to the Central Board of Secondary Education or to the ICSE, can only establish and run their schools on a No Objection Certificate being issued in their favour by the competent authority in the State Government.

The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the private unaided educational institutions, contended that these schools were required to incur huge expenditure towards payment of salaries to their teachers and staff, establishment charges, rent for buildings, vehicle maintenance, ESI, EPF to its employees, etc., the current situation, where a lockdown has been imposed throughout the country because of the COVID19 Pandemic, is unprecedented.

Therefore, the High Court held that: –

“since the Government Order on 2nd May, 2020 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 and payment of tuition fee by students is voluntary, none of the private schools shall send e-mails or WhatsApp messages or any form of communication to the parents calling upon them to pay the tuition fees”.

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