Schools across states are securing court orders to allow students to be removed from online classes for non-payment of fees. They continue to argue that while they understand the plight of jobless parents, they need money to run classes.
Rajasthan’s 39-year-old Bhushan Awasthi lost his job at a textile manufacturing facility in April 2020 due to the lockdown. After a long search, Awasthi found another job and he will be joining in October. However, his unemployment led to the delay in the fee payment of his son, who has now been thrown out of the online classroom by his school.
“We were given a one-month grace period to pay the fees. However, I was unable to make the payment. So, my son was removed from the classes, and we have been informed that he will be taken back once we make the payment,” said Aswathi.
On September 7, the Rajasthan High Court said in a judgement on a slew of petitions filed against fee collection during COVID-19 that schools can charge 70 percent fees and students can pay them in three installments.
However, the court said that while non-payment of fees should not result in students being expelled from school, he/she can be removed from online classes.
It is not just in Rajasthan. A slew of petitions have been filed in courts in Delhi, Gujarat and West Bengal on the issue of private schools demanding fees during lockdown. All these petitions seek a reduction in school fees since classes are being held online.
In the meantime, schools are using previous court judgements to remove students from online classes.
Anupama Dastidar, vice-principal of a Kolkata-based school, told Moneycontrol that schools don’t have an option. This private school had barred 10 students from online classes till they pay the full fees.
“Schools cannot run classes without students’ fees. We understand the difficulties but how will we pay teachers if we don’t collect fees? Parents also need to understand the issue,” she said.
The Calcutta High Court has restrained schools from removing students from virtual classes for non-payment of full fees. Further, it has also set up a committee to look into the financials of the schools in the wake of petitions seeking fee concessions.
The July Delhi HC order
There was a perception that schools are legally prohibited from debarring students from online classes. However, the order given by the Delhi HC in a case pertaining to Queen Mary’s School, Northend, showed that this may not be the case.
The school had filed a case against a Delhi government circular. The Aam Aadmi Party government had, in an April 2020 circular, said that even if parents are not able to pay the fees due to the COVID-19 financial crisis, no student can be denied the ID and password for getting online access.
The school, in its plea, said that taking unfair advantage of the above clause, 40 percent students are defaulting payment of tuition fee, resulting in a grave financial crisis to the school.
Justice Jayant Nath, in the July 8 order, said that when parents default on tuition fee payment for more than two months, the school is ‘free to issue an appropriate notice’ to seek reasons for the delay.
In case, parents are able to convince the school about their financial inability, no action should be taken, the order said. But if parents are unable to ‘satisfy’ the school about their financial difficulties, the school can communicate the same to the parents and decline students the ID and password.
However, a public interest litigation was filed in Delhi HC in August 2020 seeking a waiver of school fees. But the court denied to hear the plea.
Gujarat fee issue
A similar case is pending before the Gujarat HC. The Gujarat school education department said in a July 16 resolution that private schools can neither charge any fee nor hike it till the time physical classes don’t resume.
This was opposed by self-financed private schools, which had to temporary stop online classes from July 23 due to this order. However, the online classes were restored after a few days.
In August, the Gujarat HC quashed this order and allowed private schools to collect tuition fees as usual. This was followed by a series of meetings between the state government and private schools, with the former seeking a 25 percent reduction in fees.
On the other hand, schools have started declining login details to students who have missed paying fees since March.
“Pay cuts and job loss are understandable. But many parents have not even paid 30 percent fees. At the end of the day, we are not a charitable institution and need funds to run the school. We have also read court orders that have permitted students to be removed from online classes if the fee is not paid,” said the trustee of an Ahmedabad-based school.
Since a consensus was not reached, the Gujarat government filed an application in the Gujarat HC on August 24, seeking further directions.Till a unilateral decision is announced by the different high courts handling the issues of fee hike and online classes, students will continue to suffer.