A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by parents from different states seeking declaration of moratorium or deferment of fee payment during the lockdown period.
The plea seeks direction to the Centre and all states to instruct all private schools to charge only proportionate fees based on actual expenditure towards the conduct of the online virtual classes and no other fees from the students since April 1 till the commencement of physical classes. The plea stated that due to Covid-19 induced lockdown, parents who are unable to afford to pay school fees are facing constant financial and emotional hardships which may force them to withdraw their children from school education.
The plea said, “The petitioners belonging to different states of the country have come together being constrained to approach this court seeking inter alia the protection of fundamental right to life as well as education guaranteed under the Constitution of India, 1950 which the children and students enrolled up to the class XII of various Indian states are being deprived of due to supervening factors namely, the ongoing pandemic – Covid-19 period.” Apart from other issues, the petitioners have also raised concerns about ‘adverse impact of unregulated online learning on students of nursery to class V and other students as well.
Parents who have submitted the plea in the apex court are from Rajasthan, Odisha, Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Maharashtra. The petition has been filed through advocate Mayank Kshirsagar and drawn by advocate Pankhuri. It highlights the ‘hostile discrimination of children and parents of various states in India’ as some protection may be available for students in some states and not be available in other states. The plea also mentions that while Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have banned online education considering its adverse impact, other states have not considered it.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent national lockdown announced on March 25, 2020 has forced the closure of the educational sector and resulted in a catastrophic effect on the nation’s economy with many people losing their jobs or facing a pay-cut. “The school going children and students were unable to attend the physical classes at their respective schools. Some of the private aided/unaided schools made arrangements for online classes in April, 2020. However, the same has not been universally made available and there are also reports of schools charging a nominal fee even when they are not conducting any online classes. Some schools have also hiked the fees,” the plea further stated.
It added that many schools hiked their fees and/or started harassing the parents to pay the entire quarterly fees in advance despite schools being shut and non-operational and the students not availing any of their services. The petition said that despite circulars issued by various states directing schools not to hike their fees during the lockdown period, no substantial relief in the form of waiver of fees, or reduced fees, or proportionate fees as per actual expenditure etc.
The plea sought directions to Centre and all the States for directing all the private unaided/aided schools to not charge any fees whatsoever from the enrolled students of such schools for a period of three months starting from April 1 till July 1 or till the commencement of offline/physical school classes.