Parents, educationists fear that no action against the teacher will set a precedent; education inspector Anil Sable says matter will be discussed with the school on Monday.
Hours after Mirror reported that a convicted teacher had rejoined the school where he was accused of sexually harassing students, a senior education official on Thursday summoned the Andheri institute’s management for answers.
Anil Sable, the education inspector for Mumbai West, told Mirror that he would meet the management on Monday and discuss the issue at length.
The mathematics teacher was accused of sexually harassing three girl students. A special court convicted him on August 13 under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, sentencing him to three years in prison. But he obtained bail the same day and returned to the aided school on August 18.
The management has cited labour and legal compulsions for allowing him to resume work. It says it is waiting for the state education department’s instructions — whether the teacher should be sacked immediately or if the action should be taken after a higher court confirms the guilty verdict. The wait-and-watch stance caused outrage among educators and parents on Thursday, with many questioning how can the school allow a convicted teacher to take classes at a time when the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse is gaining momentum.
They also criticised education officials for taking so much time to take a decision on the teacher’s removal.
“The school is waiting for directions from higher authorities. Are higher authorities sleeping? The court’s verdict is clear. How can you allow this man to even enter the premises? He should be sacked,” said Dr Swati Popat Vats, who heads the Early Childhood Association (ECI), an umbrella organisation of pre-schools. She is also the president of Podar Education Network.
A trustee of the Andheri school told Mirror on Wednesday that the Maharashtra Employees of Private Schools (Conditions of Service) Rules, 1981, had tied its hands. Section 33 (6) of the law prevents the management from initiating any action till the lower court’s decision is confirmed by the higher court. The trustee also said that the teacher could challenge his conviction so the school cannot take a decision on his removal on its own.
Vats said she was baffled by the school’s approach. “If you cannot sack him until a higher court issues a ruling, then suspend him for now. How can you allow him to be around children when he has been convicted of sexual harassment? The school wants to be fair to the teacher, but what about children and their parents?” she said.
She added that this case could set a precedent for all POCSO cases in schools. “I am worried it will be a bad precedent if the Andheri school doesn’t act sensibly and quickly,” she said.
Podar Education Network had conducted thorough background checks on its support staff at its chain of preschools. Eight out 1,000 employees who were screened had criminal antecedents. “They were sacked,” Vats said. “From the child’s point of view, it is not fair that a convicted person is hired by another school,” she said.
A parent, who successfully protested the bail granted to a trustee of another school in a POCSO case, said officials were losing sight of the main issue, protection of children, while following norms. “Guidelines are there, but what about common sense. I don’t know why the Andheri school is waiting for a higher court to confirm the verdict. A charge under the POCSO Act is serious. Why is the school allowing the teacher to be around children who are potential victims?” the parent said.
Lawyer Anubha Sahai, who heads the India Wide Parents Association, said: “The government launched Raksha Ahiyan last month with the aim to protect children from sex abuse, but it is not acting against a teacher convicted under the POCSO Act.”