The COVID- 19 pandemic has led to a wide range of problems. It is becoming very difficult to curb and stop the disease from further snowballing. This has also led to the permanent closing of education institutions in the world. The emphasis has been laid on self-financed institutions which are dependent on school fees. Most states have released circulars to private institutions to stop collecting fees.
There is no doubt that this outbreak would place pressure on all households. This is because of an economic recession resulting from the pandemic. But it is important to recognize that the process of educating the children cannot be stopped. Thus, it is important to analyze the issue of school fees during the pandemic.
Plea in Supreme Court by Parents
There was filing of a petition by a group of parents from different states in the Supreme Court. It was seeking to ease the payment of school fees in private schools for the months of April, May and June of this year. This was due to COVID-19 pandemic. The petition aims the center to direct private schools and state government. The direction need to be given to not charge any fees from students enrolling for a three-month period from April to June.
The petitioners prayed for several instructions. That, schools should charge only fees which is proportional to the conduct of online classes. Also, the plea prays that only tuition fees must be collected and no other component of fees must be charged. There is need of waiver is until normal physical classrooms can be started. Additionally, a complete waiver of fees is sought from students whose parents are not engaged in any vocation at the moment or who have had a pay cut or who have no income because the COVID-19 pandemic and a lock-down between the months March and July.
The petition also includes a prayer to impose a moratorium on the payment of the fee for the students whose parents apply for such a deferment. It is prayed that the schools should not impose any penalty extra fee. The petition argues that no one should be removed from school because of non-payment of fees. The plea also mentions that students from disadvantaged groups cannot take part in the online course. This is due to lack of resources.
It added that schools have also increased their fees. This is because of the inability of schools and students to make use of any of the facilities offered by schools. Some schools even threatened the students’ parents in advance for full quarterly payment.
The petition claimed that circulars were obtained from many States seeking private aided/unaided schools not to increase their fees during the pandemic. But there was no provision of substantive relief in the form of discounted fees, or proportionate fees. Parents were given a massive financial burden to deal with. Thus, infringing on and violating the right of students to life and education. The plea states:
“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 & 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.”
The Order by Punjab and Haryana High Court
The Punjab and Haryana High Court permitted private schools in the state to collect tuition fee, annual charges, and admission fee from students even though the schools were closed because of the lockdown. The judgment also states that schools can charge tuition fees although they have not provided online classes to their students during the period of the lockdown. But the Court has ruled that schools must have to make attempts to conduct online classes. This was done so that education does not fail as a result of current and future lockdowns imposed due to the pandemic.
In a comprehensive ruling, the judge specified that the administration of each school would determine the real expenses incurred for the time when the school remain closed. The schools could only recover legitimate expenses incurred by the them. For example, actual costs for travel and the actual building costs. The Court stated that schools are restricted from increasing charges for 2020-21. They are still subject to the same structure of fees as for 2019-20.
The judgment mentioned that if a parent is unable to pay the fees, he can file an application. This can be done along with a proof of financial status. The Schools would have to look into these applications. It will also give concessions to the students.
The Court also allowed the schools to move a representation to the district education officer concerned. This will be done if they face a financial crunch because of not having charged the increased fee for 2020-21. The officer will look into the application, along with the proof of financial crunch submitted. He will then “pass appropriate orders within three weeks”, the judge said.
Families who are financially disabled have to pay a higher price for their children because of COVID-19. It could leave a couple of them no choice but to cut off their children or students for an unforeseeable period from the path of institutional/educational schooling. This will be due to constant financial and emotional difficulties. The decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court amid the crisis is welcoming. But, it seems that there is no point in collecting fees from students when schools do conduct any online classes for them.
Special provisions need to be made for financially and economically backward students. This will ensure that parents do not face any emotional or financial stress because of payment of school fees. It will also ensure that students are not forced to drop out of schools due to non-payment of fees. But there needs to be monitoring of the position of schools to deal with such a crisis.
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