The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) is not clear as to what constitutes a neighbourhood school, the Madras High Court has said.

If there is more than one school in a neighbourhood, then which institution can the parent have the choice of, which authority can direct admissions to such schools and who will supervise the admissions is not clear. Under the present scheme of the Act, if the school justified that it had admitted a minimum of 25 per cent of its seats for children belonging to weaker and disadvantaged sections that would be a sufficient compliance of the law. The process of admission should be done in a transparent manner. But there was no particular right of a child to be admitted to a particular school. This was not guaranteed under the Act.

Justice K. Chandru made the observation while dismissing writ petitions by M. Abimanyou and four others seeking a direction to various unaided private schools to admit their children in different classes. The petitions were filed invoking the Act.

The Judge said it was only in case of schools coming under section 2 (n) (i) of the Act (schools established, owned or controlled by the appropriate government or a local authority), that free and compulsory elementary education to all children admitted is to be provided. The schools cited in the petition admittedly came under the category of Section 2 (n) (iv) as unaided non-minority schools. In those cases, the process of admitting students with 25 per cent reservation for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups started only from Standard one and it may grow gradually from Standard one to Standard eight. But in cases where there was a pre-school education, then it may start from LKG. Hence, the petitioners were under the misconception that automatically in respect of unaided private schools, there would be complete free education. It was a complete misleading of the provisions of the law.

In case a child was unable to get admission to Standard I in any of the unaided private schools, the only guarantee for free and compulsory education provided for children aged six to 15 was under section 9 of the Act (Duties of local authority.) Therefore, the obligation to provide free and compulsory education up to 14 years of age was vested solely in the local authorities.

In the scheme of things, it was not clear whether parents of children, whether belonging to weaker sections or well-off sections would have any right to get their children admitted to schools of their choice. Except for a guarantee of 25 per cent of admission to weaker sections, the rest 75 per cent who wanted to get admitted to such private schools were to fend for themselves by paying the fees demanded as per the law, he said.

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