New Delhi: The Delhi High Court has said private schools can preclude students from attending online classes if their parents do not pay fees and fail to establish that they are in financial crisis due to the Covid pandemic.
In a three-page order, a single-judge bench of Justice Jayant Nath Wednesday partially read down Delhi government’s circular that restrained schools from denying password and access to online classes to students whose fees had not been deposited.
Issued on 18 April, the government circular had also stated that schools will only charge the tuition component of the fee.
The court order came on a plea filed by the Queen Mary School Northend, which blamed the circular for 40 per cent of its students not paying fees.
It said the parents took “unfair advantage” of the government order and have refused to deposit the money. The school has challenged the validity of the government order itself.
The bench, however, did not give a final opinion on the circular but issued an interim order.
“Where the parents are unable to satisfy/demonstrate to the petitioner regarding their financial difficulties, the petitioner is free to communicate the same to the parents and decline to provide them ID and password for online education facility for the students,” the bench said. It will hear the matter again on 5 August.
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The bench, however, clarified that parents are free to approach the appropriate authority under the Delhi government against the school order.
‘Provision cannot be misused’
Advocate Romy Chacko, the school’s legal representative, submitted that Queen Mary School Northend was in grave financial crisis and was struggling to pay salaries to its teachers and staff. He criticised the two contentious clauses of the government order — one with regard to restricting the school to only charge tuition fee and other that prevented it from acting against any student who did not pay.
Chacko cited an earlier high court order, issued 24 April, that expressly stated the provision should not be misused.
A bench of two judges had then held that it would be necessary for parents seeking benefit of this direction to satisfy the school authority or the Delhi government’s Department of Education (DoE) that they were financially “incapacitated from paying the tuition fee” owing to the lockdown.
Chacko argued that the school should be allowed to implement this interpretation of the government order given by the division bench.
Notice to parents
In response to the school’s argument, the Delhi government’s standing counsel, Ramesh Singh, submitted that the institution was free to take steps, including issuing a notice to the parents of students who don’t pay the fees.
But Singh also said an opportunity must be given to parents to explain if they were suffering from any financial crisis. In case of a failure to do so, he suggested, the school could take steps in accordance with the law.
“Keeping in view the above circumstances, where the parents are in default for payment of tuition fee for more than two months, the petitioner is free to issue an appropriate notice to such parents to explain the reason for the default,” the court ordered.
“In case the parents are able to convince/demonstrate to the petitioner about their financial problems/financial incapacity to immediately pay the pending fees, the petitioner shall not take any further steps for the time being against such parents,” it held.
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