Justification behind Schools Charging Fee During COVID-19

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This post has been written by Shivangi Khattar pursuing 2nd Year BBA LLB from JIMS School of Law, IP University.

INTRODUCTION

Corona virus Disease is a respiratory illness which first emerged in the Wuhan City of China. The cases regarding the corona virus were initially reported to the World Health organization on 31st December 2019. On 30th January 2020, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 outbreak was a global health emergency. When this disease started spreading in the whole world, on 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

In India the first case of Corona virus Disease was confirmed by the Government of India on 30th January 2020 in the state of Kerala, when a university student from Wuhan traveled back to the state. After this case it was seen that slowly and gradually the number of corona virus positive cases started increasing and when they reached approximately to 500, the Prime minister Narendra Modi on 19th March asked all the citizen to observe “ Janta Curfew” as it became necessary to control the situation from getting worse and also to stop this virus from spreading in the other parts of the country.

After observing “Janta Curfew” when the cases of Corona virus did not decrease, the only solution that left with Narendra Modi and his Government was to break this cycle of transmission by following social distancing in each and every part of the country. That is why on 24th March 2020, the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lock-down limiting the movement of people as a preventive measure against COVID-19.

This lock-down restricted the people from stepping out of their houses and also there was suspension of all the Educational Institutions, Industrial Establishments, Hospitality Services and all the Transport Services except the transportation of essential goods or emergency services.

SITUATION DURING THE LOCK-DOWN

The situation in which we are placed today, is one which the country and indeed the whole world has not witnessed earlier. This lock-down caused a lot of trouble to each and every citizen of the country and especially to the people who were living in rural areas. The harsh reality is that, the challenges that are being faced by the people living in rural areas are far more challenging and different as compared to the people living in urban areas. The middle class and rich people still have money from which they can satisfy their needs in order to live even if they don’t work and also, they are capable of paying the school fee of their children. Whereas, the situation with people living in rural areas is totally different. These people are generally laborer’s, farmers, factory workers etc. who earn their livelihood by working in the factories, farms etc. As in this lock-down everything is closed, they were not in a position to earn their livelihood, because the main issue is that even the employers don’t have money to pay wages to them. So, the only option left with these employers is to ask their employees to leave the job.

Therefore, as a result these people became jobless, suffer from financial crisis, due which it became very difficult for them even to satisfy their basic necessities of life (food, water, shelter etc.)

EDUCATIONAL SCENARIO IN INDIA

Before the lock-down the people were living normal life. Children used to go to their schools and colleges, where they were taught by their teachers, they took part in other curricular activities and also in the sports events organized by the institutions. These activities helped them in gaining knowledge and also enhancing their skills to perform a particular activity. Therefore, for providing these facilities the institutions used to charge fee from their students, so that from the collection of the fee amount the salaries can be paid to the staff members and also to the other members working in the institution.

In 2019 a drastic change was seen in the educational scenario due to the lock-down because of Corona virus. As everything was being closed on the orders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the major challenge being faced by the educational institutions was that “How education should be provided to the students in this lock-down”?

In order to deal with this issue, the educational institutions came up with a solution of providing education to the students through conducting virtual classes or the online sessions by using different apps such as Zoom Meeting app, Hangouts, Meet app etc. With the help of these apps the teachers were able to take sessions from their home. These apps not only enabled teachers and students to connect over the video enabled remote classrooms, but also provided a host of interactive and collaborative tools on a single platform, but through these apps only study material can be provided to the students, they cannot be asked to participate in other curricular activities.

CHALLENGES FACED IN CONDUCTING VIRTUAL CLASSES

Even though eLearning is providing students an opportunity to get online education, but still there are lots of challenges that are being faced by the instructors in providing virtual classes to their students. The schools have to put in intensive work and as well as a lot of time to create an online platform in order to provide virtual classes with minimum technical issues.

Therefore, to create such platform the schools require staff who can create such platform and as well can operate the system efficiently so that students can attend classes with minimum technical glitches. However, for doing such work the schools spend lot of time and also apply their effort to help their students in the best possible manner. So, as a reward for their hard work they are being provided with the salary from the money which was being collected by students in the form of fee.

EDUCATIONAL DEPARTMENTS TAKE ON ISSUE OF FEE

In this global pandemic a question arises before the Educational Departments and the Government that, whether schools and universities can charge fee from students during the lock-down or not?

To deal with such situation Manish Sisodia, the Deputy Chief Minister who is also the Education Minister of Delhi, stated that no private school can charge any fee beyond the tuition fee during the lock-down.[1]

After receiving several complaints Manish Sisodia said that no Private School can hike fees without the permission of the Government and if any student was not in a position to pay the fee, that student cannot be restricted from attending online sessions. He also mentioned that it is mandatory for the schools to pay salaries to their staff including the contractual ones. If they are short of funds, then in that case they can reach out to their parent organization.

COURTS TAKE ON THIS ISSUE

The Delhi High court declared that restrictions that are imposed on Private Schools for charging only the tuition fee and no other fee beyond it is totally justified, as teachers are providing online sessions and also discharging their functions during the lock-down period due to Corona virus and also the school needs revenue for covering those expenses which are incurred on the technology used to provide these sessions. The court also declared that even those students who are not able to pay the fee due to any financial crisis, must be provided with the course-work and the other material and they must be permitted by the school authorities to avail the online sessions conducted by the teachers.

In the case of Naresh Kumar v Director of Education[2], it was held that according to the Delhi School Education Act & Rules 1973, the private schools of Delhi cannot charge any fee except the tuition fee from the parents till the further orders will be passed and the collection of the same should be done only on monthly basis not on quarterly basis. Also these schools cannot increase any fee in the academic session 2020-21 irrespective of the fact whether or not the school is running on private land or land allotted by the Delhi Development Authority, if the school is running on land allotted by DDA, then in such situation fee can be increased only when the Director of education gives his approval. The court also ordered that all the schools shall ensure that each and every student must be provided with the access to online education / material/ classes without any discrimination.

For the members of the staff working in the institution, the court declared that school shall not stop the payment of monthly salary nor reduce the existing total emolument to the teaching and non-teaching staff of their school in the name of non-availability of firms. Therefore, in case of any shortfall in the availability of the funds, the school should arrange it from the society or trust which is running the school.

In case of any failure in following the instructions of the High Court , the action against the school will not be taken only under the relevant provisions of Delhi School of Education Act, 1973 and Indian penal Code, but also the punishment under Section 51 (b) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which provides that whoever, without reasonable cause:-

“ Refuse to comply with any direction given by or on behalf of  the Central Government or the State Government or the National Executive Committee or the State Executive Committee or the District Authority under this Act, Shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both, and if such obstruction or refusal to comply with directions results in loss of lives or imminent danger thereof, shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years”.

CONCLUSION

The only way to fight against this battle of global pandemic is by staying together and understanding the circumstances of each other. So, the Educational Institutions should also understand the situation of the parents who were really facing the financial crises and hence not able to pay the school fee of their children, but the people who are capable of paying the fee, must pay fee to the school as the teachers are discharging their duties even in this global pandemic, so school also requires revenue to pay salaries to their employees and to also cover those expenses which are incurred on the technology used for providing the virtual sessions. Therefore, schools are totally justified in collecting fee from the students.

[1] https://www.thestatesman.com/india/schools-cant-hike-fees-tuition-fee-charged-covid-19-lockdown-delhi-govt-1502878342.html

[2] https://www.lawyerservices.in/Naresh-Kumar-Versus-Director-of-Education-and-Another-2020-04-24

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