ISLAMABAD: Private schools in the capital have told parents to pay the full fees for the lockdown period, while the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (Peira) has yet to announce any concessions for parents in this regard.

The Punjab government has directed private schools to give parents a 20pc concession in fees because of the closure of schools.

“The Supreme Court had already decided that schools should charge fees in accordance with the base fee of 2017. So far, Peira has failed to implement that order. Meanwhile, while the entire city is almost in lockdown, parents are being asked by schools to deposit fees in advance for three months,” Hamid Khan, who represents a group of parents fighting various court cases against private schools for charging high fees, said.

He said that powerful individuals with direct links to private schools are the main hurdle to the implementation of the aforementioned SC order issued in September 2019.

The association of parents has claimed that private schools are flouting that order and the Peira act by charging illegally increased fees. They said that when Peira issued a notification to implement the SC order, private schools challenged it before the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

This February, the IHC also decided that Peira was authorised to determine private schools’ fees.

“Following the IHC order, the SC order should have been implemented but so far there has not been any development,” Mr Khan said, adding that Peira issued a notification in March barring schools from charging advance fees, but by that time a number of upscale schools had already issuedfee vouchersto parents.

A Peira official said that the authority has issued standing directions that no school can ask parents to deposit advance fees, and may only collect monthly fees.

Peira Chairperson Zia Batool said the authority has been taking steps to protect the rights of parents. She said parents would be given relief in both cases.

She said: “First of all, let me make it clear, 20pc fee concessions in light of coronavirus was proposed by Peira during the consultative meeting with the provinces. However, Punjab and Sindh announced the decision a little earlier. Now, we are also going to notify it likely on Wednesday.”

She added that the Ministry of Federal Education and Peira are cognisant of the fact that people are suffering due to the lockdown and have fewer earning opportunities at the moment.

Discussing the 2019 SC order on fee determination, she said that a petition was filed in the IHC after the SC order was issued, and the high court also decided that Peira was authorised to determine the fees of private schools after adopting certain procedures.

She said that after the IHC, Peira began conducting a survey of schools before determining the fees. “Meanwhile, we were hit by the coronavirus pandemic,” she said, adding that the SC order would be implemented.

She added: “During the closure of schools until May 31, we will give interim relief to parents until the fee is determined by Peira.”

She said the authority will take all stakeholders on board before determining the fees.

“We want to resolve this issue once and for all,” she said, adding that once the fees have been fixed, Peira will ensure that there is no annual increase beyond the limit fixed by the SC.

When contacted, a spokesperson for the Private Schools Association, Abdul Waheed, said that 97pc of the schools in Islamabad are barely looking after their affairs.

He said 60pc to 70pc of the fees collected goes directly to paying salaries, while 20pc goes to paying rent and the remaining 10pc to paying for utilities. He said it would be an injustice if a 20pc fee reduction is notified for Islamabad-based schools.

When asked about the SC order, he said Peira should determine the fees according to its previous rules.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020