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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Telangana HC stays govt order on reopening of residential schools

The court, which was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the order, also said that schools are free to function via online or offline modes of teaching but cannot force parents to send their wards for offline classes.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody , Sreenivas Janyala | Hyderabad |
Updated: September 1, 2021 7:42:18 am
The court said educational institutions can continue to conduct online classes. (Representational/File)

The Telangana High Court on Tuesday permitted reopening of schools from September 1 while staying the physical reopening (starting of offline classes) of government residential schools. The court, which was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the order, also said that schools are free to function via online or offline modes of teaching but cannot force parents to send their wards for offline classes.

In addition, the court has halted the reopening of government residential schools until further orders and directed the state to file a counter affidavit by October 4 detailing measures taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the event of an outbreak following the reopening of schools.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, the petitioner’s counsel advocate Kruthi Kalaga said, “The court has stayed the functioning of government residential schools in social welfare and tribal welfare institutions to check the government’s preparedness. The government has been asked to file a counter affidavit with all details in four weeks. Parents of students in all government and private schools have been given the freedom to choose whether they want to send their children to schools or not. The consent forms sought from parents by schools have no legal validity,” she said.

The court said parents should be given the option to decide whether their child needs to attend offline classes and there should be no penal action against any school that continues to conduct online classes.

As per the HC directions, Telangana Government issued a Government Order late evening to reopen schools with HC recommendations. The Government Order issued by Education Department Secretary Sandeep Kumar Sultania states: “All schools other than Government Residential Schools, Social Welfare Schools, and Tribal Welfare Schools with hostel facilities are permitted to open from September 1. No child shall be compelled by any school management to physically attend offline classes if his or her parent is not inclined to send the child to school. It is left open to school management to have either only offline or only online or both offline and online classes. Any undertaking obtained from parents by any school management absolving the school management of any liability if any child gets infected with virus while in school shall not have any legal effect. The Director of School Education is directed to lay down the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be followed by all the school managements conducting classes offline within one week.”

The state government had earlier announced the reopening of schools for all classes, from kindergartens and anganwadi centres to institutes offering postgraduate courses, from September 1. Minister for Education P Sabitha Indra Reddy had also stated that online classes would not be continued once regular classes commence.

The PIL challenged the reopening of schools for students till Class V, arguing that they are too young to maintain Covid protocols. However, the court extrapolated the scope of the PIL to include students till Class XII. It said the government order was cryptic and had not taken parents and schools into confidence. The court also sought to know if the Disaster Management Committee was consulted before issuing the order.

“The court wanted to know how it is possible to maintain social distancing in a class of 40 to 60 students and how the government would ensure that schools follow all protocols. It noted that cases are likely to peak in September and October. As there is no vaccine yet for children, there is every possibility that the child may be asymptomatic and may carry the virus home and pass it on to parents, grandparents or other students,” said high court advocate Karam Komireddy.

Based on guidelines issued by the National Institute of Disaster Management in June 2021 anticipating a possible third wave of Covid, the Centre had directed that 20 per cent of beds in all hospitals should be allocated for children. The state government has previously submitted in the court that they are equipping Niloufer Hospital in Hyderabad with necessary beds. The court has now asked for an update on paediatric infrastructure, she added.

Educational Institutes across the state have remained shut for nearly 18 months since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Though physical classes resumed for a few weeks in February this year, the second Covid wave shut schools again. Announcing the reopening of schools from September 1, the government had maintained that the decision was taken following requests from parents and in the interest of students who have been facing psychological issues due to the prolonged isolation.

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