Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Delhi High Court: Jayant Nath, J., while hearing a matter with regard to parents defaulting in payment of tuition fees to schools, held that Schools can decline to provide Online Education facility to the students whose parents fail to explain the reason for the default.

Petition filed sought an appropriate writ to quash the Circular dated 18th April, 2020 and to allow the School to charge the actual expenditure incurred during the lockdown period in the form of fees from the students.

Petitioner submits that the Circular is ultra-vires the Delhi School Education Act.

Contentions

Petitioner’s counsel pointed out from the Circular that no fee except tuition fee would be charged during the lockdown period, another thing that was extracted from the Circular was that in no case, the ID and password shall be denied to getting online access of educational facilities to those students who were unable to pay school fee due to financial crisis.

Due to the above-stated clauses, 40 % of the students defaulted in paying fees which resulted in struggle to pay salaries of the staff and teachers.

Standing Counsel for GNCTD submitted that petitioner was free to take steps including issuing of notice to the parents who defaulted in paying tuition fees.

Decision

Bench held that in view of the above circumstances, if the parents defaulted in payment of tuition fees for more than 2 months, petitioner is free to issue appropriate notice to explain the reason of such default and in case they fail to do so, the petitioner is free to so communicate the same to the parents and decline to provide them ID and Password for online education facility for the students. 

Matter to be listed on 5-08-2020.[Queen Mary School Northend v. Director of Education, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 736 , decided on 08-07-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench of Ramesh Ranganathan, CJ and R.C. Khulbe, J., directed slew of directions to be followed in pursuance to the State Government Order passed on 2nd May, 2020 with regard to the collection of tuition fees by private unaided schools.

State Government vide its Order dated 2nd May, 2020 had permitted to private unaided schools to conduct online classes. In terms of the said order, these schools were also prohibited from collecting any fees other than tuition fees.

The said clause of collecting tuition fees was not extended to the private unaided schools who were unable to provide online classes.

Complaint

It has been alleged that parents were being coerced to pay tuition fees. Some of the schools are conducting classes for even Upper Kindergarten students only to collect fees from gullible parents.

Schools had started to send WhatsApp messages and e-mails with regard to payment of tuition fees, though the Government Order required payment of fees to be voluntary and since several of the State’s inhabitants lacked internet facility due to which children could not attend the online classes, still they were being asked to pay tuition fees.

Object of the Government Order dated 2nd May, 2020 is to ease the burden on parents, who do not even have the means to earn their livelihood in this period of crisis, in being required to pay the huge fees which these private institutions charge.

While the difficulties of these institutions, in having to incur expenditure without collecting fees from its students, is understandable, times of crisis like these would require the haves to extend a helping hand to the have-nots.

Court issued following directions for effective implementation of the above-stated Government Order:

  • District Education Officer and Block Development Officer to be appointed in each district to whom complaints can be addressed by parents who are being coerced to pay the tuition fees by private schools.
  • Wide publicity shall be given in the media informing the public at large, in the State, that they can address their grievance in this regard to the Nodal Officers.
  • Nodal Officer to take prompt actions against the complaints.
  • Children, who do not have access to online course, cannot be asked to pay tuition fees.
  • Since payment of tuition fee by students is voluntary, none of the private schools shall send e-mails or WhatsApp messages or any form of communication to parents calling upon them to pay tuition fees.

Court further asked the Secretary, School Education to furnish report on the following:

  • call for information from all the District Education Officers regarding the number of private schools, which offer online courses, and the number of students who have access to such online courses. Information shall be obtained from each of these private schools as to whether tuition fees is being collected even from those students who have no access to the online course offered by the schools. This information shall not only be collected from students of Class 1 to Class 10, but also with regards children who are undergoing their Upper Kindergarten.
  • Information regarding online classes being conducted by private schools for Upper Kindergarten students. Shall consider the wisdom in conducting such online programmes for these children in Upper Kindergarten, examine whether this is just a ruse to collect tuition fee from them, and issue appropriate directions, to all such private schools, in this regard as he considers appropriate.

Matter to be posted on 26-05-2020. [Japinder Singh v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Utt 217, decided on 12-05-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of D.N. Patel, CJ and C. Hari Shankar, J. dismissed a writ petition that sought modification of the Order dated 17-4-2020 issued by the Directorate of Education, Delhi (“DoE”), and direction to the schools not to charge the tuition fees from the students keeping in view the present situation of COVID 19 at least for the lockdown period in the interest of justice.

Backdrop & issue

Notably, in its Order dated 17-4-2020, the DoE took stock of the emergent situation that has arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as of the precautionary and restrictive measures imposed, by the Central and State government, to contain its spread, including the imposition of lockdown. While appreciating the efforts of private unaided schools in providing online education to students, the DoE took note of certain malpractices indulged in by some schools and it issued certain directions. Of these, the petitioner claimed to be aggrieved by the first direction whereby schools have been interdicted from charging any fee, except tuition fee, from parents. The petitioner complains against this exception. The writ petition, therefore, prayed that this exception be done away with, and the impugned Order dated 17-4-2020, be consequently modified, by granting complete exemption from payment of any fee, including tuition fee, at least for the period during which the presently existing lockdown continues to be in place. In the alternative, the writ petition prayed that the impugned Order dated 17-4-2020, be modified to the extent that tuition fees be charged “after an appropriate and reasonable time from the reopening of the schools”.

Decision & discussion

Rule 165 of Delhi School Education Rules

Dr N. Pradeep Sharma, Advocate for the petitioner, relied on the first proviso of Rule 165 of the Delhi School Education Rules, 1973, which, in a case in which the school is closed on the 10th day of the month (by which date fees are payable), defers the requirement of payment of fees to the date following the 10th day on which the school reopens. Schools, being presently closed, the petitioner sought to rely on this proviso to submit that tuition fees cannot be charged by schools, during the period of such closure.

Disagreeing, the High Court was of the opinion that so long as education is being imparted online, and students are availing the benefit thereof, schools cannot be treated as “closed”, so as to disentitle them from charging tuition fees. It was observed that ex facie, the first proviso merely defers the stage of payment, of school fees, in such cases, to the appropriate time, when such payment would become possible, and no more. Rule 165 does not deal with the chargeability of tuition fees, but only with the payability thereof. The Court held:

“Rule 165 cannot be pressed into service to seek exemption, from the requirement of payment of tuition fees, for the period during which the schools remain physically closed, and are imparting education through online platforms. Students would be mandatorily required to pay tuition fees during this period, and, in so requiring, we do not find the impugned Order, dated 17th April, 2020, of the DoE, deserving of interference in any manner.” 

Direction re financial hardship clause

Refuting the contention of the petitioner concerning the grounds of financial hardship, Ramesh Singh, Senior Standing Counsel for DoE, submitted that the impugned Order dated 17-4-2020, itself prohibits schools from denying ID and password, to students, for obtaining access to online learning platforms, merely because, “owing to financial crisis arising out of closure of business activities in the ongoing lockdown condition”, the parents of such students are unable to pay school fees. 

As per the High Court this is a wholesome provision. However, its misuse is to be checked. The Court directed that:

“It would be necessary for parents, seeking the benefit of this relief, to establish, to the satisfaction of the school, or the DoE, that, owing to the lockdown, they are, in fact, financially incapacitated from paying school fees.”

Policy decision & ambit of issuing mandamus

Dr Sharma, for the petitioner, then relied on the residual clause of the guidelines framed by the Central Government under the Disaster Management Act and submitted that “necessary relief” in the form of exemption from payment of tuition fees may be directed to be provided. According to the Court, the contention was totally misconceived. It is not for the High Court to arrive at a policy decision, regarding the relief that is to be provided to persons affected by any disaster including the COVID-19 epidemic.

Dr. Sharma further submitted that unaided schools were, in all cases, run by trusts or societies, and, instead of charging fees from students, schools should, during the period of COVID lockdown, source their expenses from the monies available with their parent trusts, or societies. Outrightly rejecting the submission, the Court said:

“It is not possible for this Court to issue any mandamus, directing unaided schools – who, it is trite, received no financial aid from the executive and are, therefore, dependent on fees for their expenses – to delve into the monies available with their parent trusts, or societies, for defraying the expenses involved in payment of salaries, maintenance of their establishment and imparting of online curricular education.”

The Court was of the opinion that the impugned Order dated 17-4-2020 issued by the DoE strikes correct balance between the legitimate concerns of the institutions, and of parents/students, even while safeguarding the interests of parents who may find themselves in impecunious circumstances, owing to the lockdown presently in place, or due to closure of their businesses/establishments. The writ petition was accordingly dismissed. [Naresh Kumar v. Director of Education, WP(C) No. 2993, decided on 24-4-2020]