More than a month since the Cathedral Vidya School, a prestigious residential school in Lonavala, shut down abruptly citing a fund crunch, students, parents, teaching and non-teaching staff have moved on, albeit with difficulty. However, the investigation about the closure is in a limbo and puts a spotlight on the lack of effective mechanisms to monitor such decisions by school administrations.
One of the parents, who wished to stay anonymous, said: “Having a fund-crunch is a genuine issue, but there has to be a process in case of shutting down the school that does not leave all children and staff high and dry. At the last minute, we were all focused on finding suitable alternatives for our children, which did not come without compromises on aspects such as subject combinations, location of schools, day or boarding arrangements among others.” The news of the closure was communicated to the 150 children in the school two days before they were expected to return to campus for the new academic year. Many students have now taken admissions in different schools, including boarding schools in various locations across the country. “My children were day scholars as we live nearby. In order to get the same board and subject combinations, both have to be admitted to two separate schools which are farther away. Some students even went as far as Ooty and Mussoorie for boarding options,” said a parent.
The teaching and non-teaching staff from the school have also had to struggle the past month to find alternatives.
“Most of us have had to compromise on salaries and designations. If we had notice, we could have planned better,” said a staff member, adding that there “were a few new appointments in teaching and non-teaching staff a month before the closure”, which did not leave “any room for them to suspect a serious issue”.
“We all knew there was a fund crunch, but just recently, the school management spent money on renovation and repair works. This made us all believe that with new admissions, school is getting ready,” said the staff member, adding that many of them lived in Lonavala with their families and are looking to relocate.
The education department of Maharashtra started an independent inquiry into the abrupt closure on May 26 after parents wrote to the state’s education minister Varsha Gaikwad. An initial notice was sent to the school to explain their stand, following which authorities visited the school campus. The inquiry has not led to any conclusion.
The parents who had sent a legal notice to the school management in June said they had to stop demanding accountability after signing a no-objection certificate that stated that the fee would be refunded. “Our hands were tied after we all had been forced to sign a declaration of having no objection, in order to receive a refund of our money,” shared the parent who wished to remain anonymous.
They added that “a legal struggle would have meant loss of energy, time and finances” with no end in sight.
Audumber Ukirde, the Deputy Director of Education in Pune, who was responsible for conducting the independent enquiry, said: “Unless we have a complaint from parents, there is no provision to take any action.”
Ukirde said that he had “issued a notice to the school that an abrupt closure was not allowed” and “that the school should continue for an year”.
“But the notice clearly has not been given any importance by the school management. And with no student on campus anymore, the office of the Deputy Director cannot take proactive action,” Ukirde added.
The school offered the International Burreaculate (IB) and Cambridge curriculums, but both boards have also not taken any action. In an official response the International Baccalaureate stated, “The IB understands the unprecedented challenges and financial strain the global community is facing. The IB is committed to supporting all IB World Schools around the world to ensure our students’ continuity of learning. The IB has financial support options in place and encourages IB World Schools to contact the IB as early as possible, so that the IB can work with schools and explore options that best suit the schools that meet the criteria for financial support. These options can include adjustment to instalment plans and temporary suspension of the program for a maximum of two years. Therefore, it was most unfortunate that the Cathedral Vidya School, Lonavala decided to close without notice”.