Disposing of the public interest litigations (PIL) moved by parents of school-going children and a petition by the Federation of Self-Financed Schools seeking the Gujarat High Court’s (HC) intervention in fixing fees, a division bench suggested that private schools adopt a “non-profit outlook for the next few months.” It further directed the state government to issue a fresh government resolution (GR) following an amicable renegotiation process with unaided schools.
The court observed, “…We understand that schools need a certain amount of money to function and pay their staff salaries but… not all families are financially stable at the moment. Keeping in mind the current situation, a balance has to be struck between providing children a reasonable education and allowing the schools to stay afloat. Managing the education of students remotely by conducting online classes is a tedious job… As professionals, they must be paid for their time and service justly. Thus, it is acceptable for the schools to charge a reasonable tuition fee to the parents for the online classes they conduct. All the other overhead fees for bus service, sports and recreation should be avoided.”
The judgment further noted, “…Parents must also acknowledge that online education of their child is not a futile effort… Schools on the other hand must be conscious of the economic instability faced by their students’ families… It would be unfair for them to be paying for suspended school services. The schools might have to adopt a non-profit outlook for the next few months. Schools… should allow fees to be paid on a monthly basis or in installments so less burden is exerted on the parents. A flexible method of payment might encourage financially struggling families to keep their child’s education going….”
Directing the state government to “once again convene a meeting with the office bearers of the association of unaided private schools” so as to reach an equitable understanding, the court directed that once all issues are resolved amicably, the state government shall issue a fresh GR in this regard.
While the judgment was passed on July 31, it was only made public on Wednesday. Heard extensively by the division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala, the court adjudged that the parties need to “strike a balance so as to protect the interest of the students and their respective guardians, and at the same time, also the interest of management of the unaided private schools.”
The state education department on July 16 had issued a GR instructing that schools shall not charge any tuition fees for the period between the physical closure of the schools and their physical reopening. The decision had come following four PILs moved by students’ associations and parents, seeking fee regulation and modalities around online teaching. This GR was then challenged by the Federation of Self-Financed Schools, primarily on the ground that despite online classes, there are recurring costs that schools have to incur including the payment of salaries of their staff.
The court quashed and set aside three specific clauses of the GR. These included the state government’s decision that schools shall not charge any tuition fees for the period of online classes/ no physical classes. It also quashed a clause that stated that expenditure incurred in the salary of teaching and non-teaching staff shall be considered by the fee regulatory committee while determining fees for next year. It also set aside the clause that permitted schools to adjust the advance fees — that parents may have paid — in the fees to be charged in the next academic year.
The education department will shortly hold a meeting with school management representatives, said Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama. “To resolve the fee issue, a meeting will be held soon with school management representatives as the High Court has directed that a solution, which is acceptable to both parents and schools, should be worked out. The court also said that the schools’ management need to keep a big heart and help the state government,” he added.
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