A writ petition was filed in the Calcutta High Court, demanding no student enrolled with the private, unaided schools should neither be barred from accessing online classes nor prohibited from participating in online examinations.
On Tuesday, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court comprising of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya, issued the following interim directions:
a. For the moment, none of the 112 schools involved should discontinue making online courses available to any of its students, unconditionally till August 15, 2020.
b. Further, none of the 112 schools will prohibit any of the students from participating in the online examinations, if any, till August 15, 2020.
c. These directions are applicable for all classes and all courses.
d. By August 15, 2020, the outstanding dues of each student, as at July 31, 2020, have to be cleared to the extent of 80 per cent.
e. Those already debarred from online courses or online examinations will be restored to their previous status.
f. It is hoped that if substantial payments are made on behalf of the students who are in default, the relevant schools will not discontinue the online courses for any meagre shortfall in payment.
The petitioner represents the parents of over 15,000 students who are enrolled in more than 110 private, unaided schools in and around the city.
The principal grievance raised by the petitioner is that the private, unaided schools in the city and elsewhere in the State continue to demand regular fees though the schools have not functioned for the last four months.
The writ petitioner has demanded appropriate discounts on account of reduced costs in the running of the schools over the last four months.
The writ petitioner also claims that online courses and examinations have been started by some of the 112 schools that are involved and students whose fees have not been cleared have been barred from participating in the online courses or taking online examinations only on such ground.
Advocate-General submitted that requests have been made from time to time by the State Government through notifications, calling upon the private, unaided schools to refrain from increasing the fees and for giving discounts and concessions to the students or parents.
The State further submitted that not all private, unaided schools have paid the salaries or dues of their employees, including the teachers.
It was submitted on behalf of such schools that contractual employees may not have been paid or their services renewed; but regular employees have been paid.
The Court noted that, however, no particulars in such regard have been furnished either in the petition, nor is it evident that the 112 schools that are involved in this case have either paid all their staff or have even paid them at a reduced level.
Highlighting the limitations of conducting a hearing on the virtual mode, the Bench observed that it is not possible, particularly in the absence of the boards or councils to which the 112 schools are affiliated, to ascertain whether such authorities wield any power to regulate the fees of their affiliated schools.
Thus, the Bench directed the writ petitioner to forward copies of this order to all the councils or boards to which these 112 schools are affiliated for such councils or boards to indicate their response before the matter is taken up next.
The Bench also asked the petitioner to forward copies of this order to each of the 112 schools which are involved.
The Bench further directed that:
a. These 112 schools will have liberty to be represented at subsequent hearings.
b. These schools must attempt to file their affidavits, indicating, in particular, as to whether all the employees of the schools have been paid during the period of lockdown and the extent of discount that such schools are able to afford to the students for the schools not functioning during the relevant period.
c. The State Government is also permitted to use an affidavit to disclose the several notifications that it has issued by way of advisories to the private, unaided schools.The stand of the State Government on the matters in issue should also be broadly indicated in such affidavit.