The Principals Progressive Schools Association on Monday withdrew its petition challenging an order of the Uttarakhand High Court restraining private schools in the state from demanding tuition fees from parents amid the COVID situation, before the Supreme Court.
The development comes in the backdrop of a recent order of the Uttarakhand High Court dated July 3, 2020, whereby it refused to interfere with a Government order permitting those schools, that offer online classes, to charge tution fee from students.
"The special leave petitions are allowed to be withdrawn in view of the fact that the matter has been finally disposed of by the High Court. The State Government has also issued an order in pursuance of the order of the High Court," the SC bench comprised by Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice AS Bopanna thus observed.
The controversy regarding payment of school fee during the lockdown finds its genesis in a May 12 order of the High Court whereby a bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice RC Khulbe ordered,
"It is only those students, who are able to access the online course being offered by the private educational institutions, who would be required to pay the tuition fee, if they choose to do so.
Children, who do not have access to the online course, cannot be asked to pay the tuition fee."
This order came to be challenged before the Supreme Court on various grounds including:
- making payment of fee optional, directly impinges upon the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Petitioner School;
- non-payment of school fees will be fatal for schools as they have been obligated to regularly pay monthly salaries to its Staff-members;
- students' attendance in online classes were 100% but only 10% students were paying the fees.
During the pendency of these proceedings, the Uttarakhand Government issued an administrative order dated June 22, providing that those private schools, which conduct online and virtual classes, are permitted, during the subsistence of this lockdown, to charge tuition fees, and they are prohibited from taking any other fees.
The said order also requires the schools to consider granting extension of time for payment of tuition fees to such of those parents who are not in a position to pay the tuition fees.
The order further provided, where extra subjects are taught online, the private schools are permitted to charge tuition fees as permitted earlier and it has prohibited private schools from increasing the tuition fees during the academic session 2020-21.
The order became a subject matter of challenge in fresh writ proceedings before the High Court, whereby the same division bench which put a restraint on demanding tution fee, observed, "we see no reason to interfere with the guidelines issued in G.O."
However, the bench was of the opinion that a mechanism should have been put in place, by the State Government, to ensure that complaints, from parents in this regard, are inquired into, and action is taken thereafter.
On this note it held,
"While we see no reason to interfere with the guidelines issued in G.O. dated 22.06.2020, suffice it to direct that, during the period when this G.O. remains in force, the State Government shall designate the Chief Education Officer in each District as the Nodal Officer to whom complaints, of violation of the conditions stipulated in the G.O. dated 22.06.2020, can be made by parents of those students who are forced to pay tuition fees, despite their not undergoing online classes."
"Before these Nodal Officers take action against the private schools, on the complaint of any aggrieved parent, the concerned school shall be put on notice, and be given an opportunity of being heard regarding the lapses, if any, on their part."
Since the decision permits private schools to demand tutiton fee in exchange for providing online classes, the plea before the Supreme Court has been withdrawn.