Hyderabad: The Telangana High Court on Wednesday said the state government could not compel either schools or students to attend physical classes from September 1 as the Covid-19 pandemic was still prevailing. The government had decided to reopen all private and government educational institutions for physical classes from Wednesday.
Terming the Government Order (GO) issued in this regard as ‘cryptic and perplexing’, the court made it clear that offline instruction for students of up to Class 10 was only optional not mandatory.
No school shall be forced to commence physical classes and managements shall not be subjected to penalisation if they are not inclined to follow the government order to conduct physical classes, the court said.
“Parents have the liberty to send their children to physical classes, but students shall not be subjected to any coercive step if they do not attend offline classes. Online classes must be made available to the students, who don't wish to attend offline classes,” the court said.
Government residential schools, social and tribal welfare hostels will remain closed. The High Court asked the government to submit a report within four weeks of time, elaborating all measures being taken for reopening of educational institutions. The government would have to make sure that there was no spread of Covid-9, it added.
“This order shall apply not only to pre-primary or primary school-going children but to all students in any school, government or private, of any class and to all school managements where the children are admitted in this state other than government residential schools, social welfare and tribal welfare schools with hostel facility,” the court said.
“The state government, authorities and respondents shall lay down SOPs to be followed by all school managements who wish to conduct classes offline within one week and give them wide publicity in print and electronic media. The school managements who wish to have offline classes shall follow the SOPs scrupulously. But starting of offline classes in government and social welfare schools and residential schools, pursuant to the impugned memo. is stayed until further orders,” the court said.
The government was asked to file a counter affidavit in four weeks with the details of the number of government and social welfare schools and how many of them had hostels. The High Court also wanted to know what measures had been taken in government-run schools and hostels to ensure the safety of students.
A division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao and Justice Tadakamalla Vinod Kumar issued these directions while hearing a PIL filed by Balakrishna Mandapati, challenging the memo issued to reopen all private and public schools from Wednesday in physical mode despite the pandemic. However, the petitioner confined his concern only to pre-primary and primary school children.
But, with regard to the admitted facts that vaccination was not yet completed for adults and no vaccine was invented for the children to get immunity to the Coronavirus, the court extended the scope of the case to cover all school going children of private and government schools.
L. Ravichander, senior counsel, representing the petitioner, brought to the notice of the court that without providing paediatric infrastructure to deal effectively if the children were infected the pandemic and not providing SOPs and safety measures in schools, the government’s decision to reopen schools from pre-primary to all would be horrendous if any untoward instances happened.
He said the government did not consult the disaster management committee nor held discussions with school management and teachers before it took such a big decision to re-open all schools.
Advocate General B.S. Prasad said the Unicef (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) suggested opening schools as students’ education may get affected due to the pandemic situation. He also explained that the government took the decision by taking all the aspects into consideration.
However, the court faulted the decision in making physical classes mandatory.
When the Advocate General tried to convince the bench on the issue, the court observed, “Do you feel there is no Covid case and no mortalities happening in the State? Unicef, WHO or any other organisation may say anything, but the government should consider the ground realities.”...