Telangana High Court imposes an interim stay of four weeks on the reopening of residential schools in the State

Published : August 31, 2021 21:08 IST

A GHMC worker sprays disinfectant outside classrooms in Government High School in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, on August 30. Photo: NAGARA GOPAL

 

The Telangana High Court on August 31 imposed an interim stay of four weeks on the State government’s decision to reopen physical classes in its residential schools with hostel facilities, including those being run by the Social and Tribal Welfare departments. The government had issued a memo on August 24 announcing that all government and private educational institutions, including Anganwadi centers in the State, will be allowed to reopen from September 1.

The government’s memo was challenged by Mandapati Bala Krishna, who filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition calling the government’s decision “arbitrary” and a violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Krishna petitioned the High Court to set aside of the memo.

Hearing the petitioner’s plea, a bench of the court headed by acting Chief Justice Ramachandra Rao directed that no government residential school with hostel facility should be reopened until further orders. The High Court cited the lack of a detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for COVID-19 safety in these residential schools. Asking about the medical infrastructure and backup facilities that have been put in place to protect students at these residential schools in the event of them contracting COVID-19, the bench asked the government not to be in a hurry. Said the acting Chief Justice: “You have waited for so long. We directed you to stop for four more weeks only to understand what sort of precautions were being taken to to protect students in the backdrop of spread of COVID-19.”

The court, however, gave the green signal for the resumption of in-person instruction at private and government schools and other educational institutions (where students are day scholars), but with the caveat that the government should not put pressure on the managements of the educational institutions or parents to send their children to schools or colleges and should not act against students who do not attend. In short, the court has allowed the resumption of physical classes but made it purely voluntary. Directed the bench: “No student should be compelled by the school management (government or private) to attend physical classes”.

The bench directed that appropriate SOPs must be prepared for the reopening of classes both through online and offline modes and strictly followed, and given wide publicity through the print and electronic media. The bench made it clear it was not against the reopening of schools, as the prolonged closure was depriving lakhs of rural children the nutrition which they receive through the government’s midday meal scheme.

The State government expects around 60 lakhs students studying in various schools across the State to come back to school.

The bench also ordered that the authorities should file details of the pediatricians who were available in each district, the availability of hospital beds for children and other medical infrastructural facilities that could be made available in the event of children contracting COVID-19.

Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had earlier ordered Ministers and officials of the Municipal and Panchayat Raj departments to clean and sanitise all educational institutions and hostels by August 30. Addressing a meeting of Ministers and officials he said: “The education system in the State has suffered a lot because of the prevailing situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this wake, we have studied the measures and strategies of different States in the country to reopen educational institutions. We have discussed with the medical and the Health Department, who gave reports that the COVID-19 situation is much under control than the previous months. The public moment is also coming to normalcy gradually.”

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