SC lambasts private schools, seeks replies on contemptuous letters

Justice Gulzar says private schools can be closed, nationalised; Schools should not be a money-making industry

Observer Report

The Supreme Court on Monday, hearing a contempt case against two private schools, Headstart School and Ecole des Lumieres, directed them to submit their written replies in the case to the court and adjourned the hearing for two weeks. The Supreme Court on Dec 13, on a petition against a hike in private school fees, had ordered a 20 per cent decrease in fee charged by upscale private schools, and ordered them to return half the fees they had charged for summer vacations. The order was applicable to private schools across the country whose fees are in excess of Rs5,000.
During a hearing of the case, the court was informed that two schools, Headstart School and Ecole des Lumieres School of Light, had written derogatory letters to parents and guardians. The verdict had noted that examples of resistance shown by private schools include reduction of facilities, increase in the number of students in every class, retrenchment of teaching staff and cut in their salaries.
The SC had subsequently called for developing a mechanism to counter resistance on the part of private schools to the regulatory steps.
“How dare you describe the Supreme Court school fee verdict as draconian,” asked Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who was heading a three-member apex court bench hearing the contempt case Monday. Justice Ijazul Ahsan said that the letters written to the parents were contemptuous. “What type of things did you write?” Justice Ahmed asked. He told the private schools’ lawyers that they would shut their institutions.
“We can even nationalise your schools. We’ll ask the government to take over your schools,” he warned. The counsel for Headstart School asked the court to forgive them and said it would not happen again. The private school’s lawyer said that they had not intended to be contemptuous against the court and had followed by the court’s directives by reducing their fee.
Justice Ahmed responded by asking the schools to submit a written apology after which they “will see [what happens]”. Justice Ahsan noted that the private schools had written a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan in which they had used contemptuous language.
Justice Ahmed asked what sort of things they had said, while again proposing that they order the government to take over private schools. The apex court judge added that private schools have turned education into a business, and added that schools should not be a money-making industry. He said that “poison has been mixed into peoples lives”. “They don’t have an ounce of shame in their eyes,” he remarked, asking how many illnesses students have left private schools with.
He asked the two schools so submit a written reply regarding their use of contemptuous language. The apex-court judge said the private schools were asking parents such questions that they couldn’t even imagine. Justice Gulzar said, “You can submit a written apology and we will take a look. We will get an audit done to check whether you have black or white money.”
“Who are private schools to ask parents where they are taking their children for holidays?” Justice Ahmed remarked. The hearing of the case was adjourned for two weeks.

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