Mumbai: Teenager loses 2 years as parents quarrel with school

Conflicts between schools and parents are hardly uncommon, but one such extreme case has resulted in a 13-year-old girl being deprived of her right to education for two years.

Due to a tussle between her parents and the school administration, the teenager has not seen the inside of a classroom since August 2013, and as a result, has been languishing in Std V since then. The authorities have pulled up both the school and the parents for ignoring the child’s needs.

The conflict, which is currently being examined by the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR), first began when the Lokhandwala Foundation School in Kandivli (E) sent an email to the parents in January 2014, stating that the student’s name would be struck off the register and she would not be allowed to enter the school premises or sit for the final exams as she had not attended school for seven months (from August 2013 to March 2014).

Not only did this mean that the girl would lose the year, it also meant that the school was unwilling to accept her as a student again. The parents in turn requested the school to make a concession and allow her to sit for the exams nevertheless.

They said that she had not been able to attend school as the family had moved to their hometown, Nanded, to tackle a lawsuit. But when the school refused to budge, the parents filed a complaint with the BMC Education department, as well as the MSCPCR in early 2014.

In December that year, however, the commission decided that the school was not at fault for denying permission to appear for the exams, as the student had not attended classes for nearly the entire academic year. However, the parents once again moved the commission to review the decision, citing the no-fail policy under the Right To Education Act, under which no child can be held back until Std VIII.

But in the meantime, even though the family returned to Mumbai about a year ago, the parents failed to admit the girl in another school, instead letting her lose another academic year in 2014-2015 - a decision that the commission criticised during a hearing yesterday.

“The RTE law was put in place to ensure that all children attend school, and not for them to stay with parents and be home-schooled. Instead of keeping their daughter out of school since August 2013, they should have talked to the school in order to solve this problem, and not let ego come in between,” said A N Tripathi, secretary at the commission.

Thursday’s hearing also highlighted a loophole in the RTE Act, which has a no-fail clause but no clarity on whether students can be promoted even if they don’t attend classes. “To expect that a student be promoted from one grade to another even if she or he has not attended school is not correct, as the student has been denied the fundamental right to education,” said Tripathi, adding that an order in this matter would be placed only after reviewing the existing laws and going through the affidavits filed by the school, parents and the Education department.

The commission also pointed out that the Education department had taken little action to protect the child’s interests. So far, the department has set up an inquiry and requested the school management to consider the case and conduct tests for the student separately, so she doesn’t lose another year. “The school refused to accept the student under any cost, and at the same time the parents too were adamant to send their daughter back to the same school,” said a senior education official.

For now, the commission has recommended that the parents resolve the matter by engaging in dialogue with the school authorities with an open mind. “We suggest that the school should also involve the Education department in order to come to an amicable decision and ensure that the student is back in school at the earliest,” added Tripathi.

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