Can a school be run on the same principle as a hotel that provides facilities in direct proportion to money paid? Not if some parents in Chennai would have it. After Bala Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary School in Adyar, Chennai decided to offer students special benefits in accordance with the extra fees they paid, a group of parents went on strike to get the move reversed.
The school sent a circular to parents on 25 May, a week before the beginning of the new academic year, asking them to choose between the fee that a government appointed committee had set and the school’s own slab (higher, of course). Children of parents who opted for the lower fee would be deprived of canteen, picnic, sports activities, participation in the school band, and some add-on courses. Altogether, 59 such activities—including awareness programmes against child sexual abuse—were listed. Students in the lower fee bracket, it said, would also be barred from annual functions like Farewell Day, Teachers’ Day, Parents’ Day, et al. The government fee ranges between Rs 34,000 and Rs 39,000 per year; for the extra facilities, a parent was asked to pay Rs 54,000–69,000.
The school’s principal Sreenivasa Raghavan and its chief executive officer, SS Nathan, who protested against such discrimination based on money, had to pay dearly. Raghavan was transferred to another school under the same management and the CEO was sacked. But the initiative didn’t last long. Parents, teachers and alumni went on strike on 1 June, demanding the withdrawal of the new fee system. “We were around 1,500. At no stage of the protest did any of us think of withdrawing our children from the school. It would not have been a solution,” says Dr Suresh, member of a ‘core committee of parents’. On 8 June, the school’s management withdrew the dual-fee structure and also reinstated the principal, who rejoined the same day.