An ongoing clash between the Pathways School Gurgaon and its parents association leads to unfavorable consequences, putting five children’s future in jeopardy
The enrolment of five students in Pathways School Gurgaon has been terminated on May 22. The termination notice has not been given on account of any action by the students, but due to the parents of these pupils.
As per the notice, the school claims that the actions by the parents of the five students have caused harm to the reputation of the school. There has been an ongoing tussle between the Pathways School Gurgaon Parents Association (PSGPA) and the school authorities regarding the fees demanded by the school amid the pandemic.
The PSGPA had approached the High Court for relief in payment of fees during the pandemic, as well as the Fee and Fund Regulatory Committee (FFRC) to have the school accounts audited.
On May 27, the NCPCR has taken a suo-moto cognizance of the matter and has sent a letter to the Deputy Commissioner of Gurugram, requesting to intervene into the matter immediately, ensuring that the education of concerned children must not get affected.
“The Commission has received a complaint from Pathways School Gurugram Parents Association stating that Pathways School, Gurugram is being run by Sarla Holdings Private Limited… Involving children into the financial matters between school and the parents by publicly displaying/calling out the name of children and their expulsion amounts to harassment of the children which is prohibited by law. Take appropriate action in this complaint as per section 17 of RTE Act, 2009 and Section 75 of JJ Act, 2015,” states the letter.
From the onset of the pandemic in 2020 when schools were shut and classes were held online, the issue of schools charging full fees was raised. The association wrote to the school several times to take into consideration the situation of the pandemic and not charge the full fees, but in vain.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court in October 2020 ruled all private schools to only collect monthly tuition fees and not demand other charges like transportations fees, residence fees etc.
The PSGPA had then approached the Punjab and Haryana high court in December 2020 regarding the composite fee charged by Pathways School Gurgaon, which was over and above tuition and actual expenses. The court had passed an interim order which directed the school to give 20 per cent rebate on the composite fees on a monthly basis for online classes.
Following this, the school however demanded 100 per cent of the composite fee in January irrespective of whether the student opted for online or physical classes. The school claimed that since they had opened for physical classes, no concession would be granted from January. Some of the parents refused to pay the entire fees, and the online access to classes for almost 100 children was blocked in February to March — for 26 days.
“This was done just a few days before their exams. Can you imagine the stress that my child went through? They arm twisted us to clear some of the arrears and the access was granted again,” says Strangway Orridge, a parent of one the five students whose enrolment has been cancelled.
Since there was no redressal from the school, the parents reached out to the governing authorities of the state education department, (namely the DEEO, DEO and BEO) due to the school’s violations of government directives with respect to the fee charges during the lockdown and in spite of the fee matter remaining sub-judice with the courts.
Following this, the parents of some children were issued show-cause notices on April 16 questioning the actions of the parents in availing legal remedy. They asked the guardians to explain as to why their child should not be terminated.
The aggrieved parents had met the Divisional Commissioner Rajeev Ranjan who is the head of the FFRC. Despite his direction to Indu Boken, DEO and DEEO to look into the matter on April 19 and report within three days, both did not give any response to the parents.
On May 22, the parents received the enrolment termination letter which stated that the parent’s response to the show-cause notice was unsatisfactory. Quoting the termination letter – “Besides the fact that the pleas sought to be raised by you are not only unsatisfactory but also erroneous, it cannot be disputed that you as parents, in any case, are required to act in a manner which is not detrimental, disruptive or injurious to the school or its reputation…”
Orridge, whose son has just completed his grade 11 exams, feels that this is a vital year for his child in terms of academics and the stress is just too high. He has reached out to some schools for admission but in vain. He states that his son has been studying in the same school since second grade but had never faced any issues before this.
“It’s an IB curriculum and he has taken music as his major. Music is not offered by a lot of schools. We have reached out to a few schools but most of them have said that he has to repeat his 11th. The school is trying to make an example of us to make other parents fall in line and since they cannot make fees the issue as it would be contempt of court they are stating that we are maligning the name of the school,” Orridge adds.
According to Kunal Behl, General Manager Administration of Pathways School Gurgaon, “A set of parents have acted in a manner which is detrimental, disruptive and injurious to the school, causing angst and emotional distress to the teaching and learning community. After affording adequate opportunities, the school was left with no option except to act in accordance with the terms of enrolment, and to terminate the enrolment of their wards from the next academic year. However, the school ensured that student learning was protected and the wards continued to remain enrolled in school for the full term of the current academic year. The next term would commence in the third week of July, which shall provide parents with ample time to seek admission in a school of their choice and trust,” says Behl, who has signed the termination letter on behalf of the school.
Among the five whose enrolment has been terminated, two of them are studying in eight standard. One of them is the son of Gauri Webster, who is the President of PSGPA. Three of her children were sent the show-cause notice and one has been terminated.
The association alleges that it is not a coincidence that those wards have been terminated whose parents have been leading the struggle against the school.
The termination letter mentioned that the parents can write back to the school within two days of the communication if they wish to be heard in relation to the said matter.
“We were never given a fair chance for a hearing by the school. According to the termination letter it states that your reply to the show cause notice is unsatisfactory. If it was unsatisfactory we should have been reached out to before the action was taken against us,” says Gauri Webster.
On May 27 afternoon the parents were called for a hearing with the ADC Gurugram. “He is now going to follow it up with the school and hear their side of the story, He stated that he has to follow due process on the basis of merit. What merit can be granted to the expulsion of kids for the expression of views of their parents?” she questions.
Amidst all this, the school has also increased its fees by 10 per cent and the fees of an average 10th standard student is now around Rs 10 lacs, states the association.
“Children have been targeted in a dispute between the parents and the school. The stress it has caused the children, they don’t deserve it,” says Orridge.
(Cover: Pathways School Gurgaon// Credit: Lyallpuremporium.com)