Published: 17th September 2020
Do not conduct SSLC for disabled students amid a pandemic: NGO files SC petition against TN govt's decision
The Tamil Nadu Class X examinations for private candidates will be held from September 21 to 26 in various centres across the state
Chennai-based disability rights NGO Ektha has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the cancellation of Tamil Nadu SSLC examination for disabled students, who are appearing for the examination privately. While the Tamil Nadu government had in June, cancelled the SSLC examinations for school students, citing a rise in COVID cases, the examinations for private candidates will be held from September 21 to 26 in various centres across the state.
A previous petition seeking the same filed in the Madras High Court did not yield any result. "This decision by the Tamil Nadu government is quite troublesome for disabled students. They have been in their houses since March and haven't been receiving proper coaching since then. A lot of them have intellectual disabilities and are currently not in a position to write these exams," says Sathish Kumar, a member of Ektha. The petition asks the School Education Department to instead evaluate these students based on their previous examination results and internal assessment. "Since the beginning, there wasn't much clarity on the status of these exams. The government had cancelled it for school students in June. But these students got to know about their exams only a month ago," he says.
A COVID negative certificate and related paraphernalia
Parvathi Ravi, the principal of WVS Special School, Coimbatore says that private candidates and their scribes are required to present a COVID negative certificate in order to appear for the examination. However, the parents of most of her students are hesitant to do so. "The COVID cases in Coimbatore are on a rise. The Government hospitals here are crowded too. The parents are really scared of taking their disabled children there to get the tests done. This increases their chance of contracting COVID," she says. "They have a point. I can't compel them here," she says. She adds that the students haven't attended their classes since the schools closed in March. Online education, she says is not a good option for children with special needs.
The petition will be soon heard by the top court
She reveals that out of the 18 students who had registered for the exam, only four are now writing it. A COVID negative certificate, however, was not a mandate for students to write NEET and JEE, Parvathi notes. "Why are they so adamant when it comes to disabled students? They are so low in number," she says. "The state government can easily take a decision here. I do not understand why they aren't doing it," she asks.
Accessibility, travel, scribes and other trouble
Parvathi says that most of the disabled students in her school come from low-income families. "Their exam centre is 35 kilometres away. Most of them cannot afford cabs to go there," she says. Malathi Balakrishnan, a parent of a disabled student agrees. "What if my child contracts the virus in the bus?" she asks.
Malathi's 24-year-old son Vignesh suffers from Cerebral Palsy. "The uncertainty around the exam has been stressing him out. This makes him epileptic quite often. I can't see my child suffer so much," she says. Vignesh moves around in a wheelchair. Malathi recalls the time when Vignesh attended the Class X practical examination at a school nearby. "It wasn't a special school and wasn't accessible for a wheelchair users. There was no one to help us out. Finally, a few sixth or seventh graders came up and lifted Vignesh and his wheelchair. However, I don't think even that will be possible now, since everyone is scared of COVID," she says. Malathi doesn't know if Vignesh's exam centre has ramp access.
She also says that her son is not in a position to write the exam now. "He hasn't gone for therapy since the lockdown began. This has had an impact on his mental health. He gets very emotional," she says. Most of these students also require scribes to write the exam. Malathi points out that the current situation puts the scribe too in a complicated situation. "They will be exposed to the virus too. Also, they will have to take the trouble of getting a COVID negative certificate," she says.
Sathish too points out an aspect here. "The scribes will find it quite difficult to understand the student. A lot of these students with intellectual disabilities do not have clear speech. Wearing a mask will disrupt it more," he says. "Also, there is no chance of maintaining social distancing between the scribe and the student," he says.
A petition that was in vain
Prior to the Supreme Court petition, Malathi and her husband R Balakrishnan had filed a petition in the Madras High Court seeking the exam's cancellation. However, it was dismissed. A disappointed Malathi says, "Apart from this, we have also written to all the relevent ministers and authorities in the state. But there was no response to any of it. This is a matter that can be solved in the state level. Why is the government being so inconsiderate?"
"Our children are no burden for us. If needed, we will spend all the money that we have to educate them. But we cannot put their lives at risk," she concludes