x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Investigation in to Sharjah private school that took pupils hostage to take two days

An investigation in to a private school that took 15 of its primary pupils hostage until their parents paid their fees will take two days, an official has said. 

SHARJAH // An investigation in to a private school that took 15 of its primary pupils hostage until their parents paid their fees will take two days, an official has said.  

Hassa Al Khaja, head of private education at the Sharjah Educational Zone, said that because the probe will interview the school’s principal, N A, the teacher who was with the pupils in the classroom at the time and the administrative employee who called parents to inform them that their children were detained, it will take time. 

The pupils involved, who are 7 and 8 years old, will also have the chance to speak with the three-member committee looking into the incident at Nibras Al Iman School on Monday. The committee is made up of two education zone officials and one person from the legal affairs section of SEZ.  

The incident came to light after the mother of a girl detained called a Sharjah radio station to complain about the school’s actions. 

The Egyptian mother informed the station that she was not allowed to take her daughter home unless she paid her late school fee instalments.  

This is one of several similar incidents recently. 

At a different school in Sharjah, a Palestinian mother said that her son was banned from getting on to the school bus unless she paid his fees. 

“The school had ordered the driver to stop my son from getting onto the bus — he told him right in front of every other student that he can’t join them because we haven’t paid his fees. It was so embarrassing for him,” said 48-year-old KJ.  

And at another Sharjah school Jordanian mother Mariama Saleem said her 10-year-old son had informed her of how a school employee comes to each class and reads aloud the names of pupils whose parents have not paid fees and asks them to either pay or not return to school the next day. 

Ms Saleem said: “It’s embarrassing to the child. I know some parents can’t care less sometimes but this is no excuse for scarring a child’s emotions.”  

And on Tuesday, a government school in Ajman withheld the test results of 10 of its pupils and text their parents to pay the late instalments if they wanted to see their child’s results.

According to article 52 of the federal law that governs private education, in cases of unpaid fees, schools are only allowed to withhold results, refrain from handing over official documents for the pupil to move schools, or temporarily suspend the child if the parents have been warned three or more times about non-payment, said Ms Al Khaja.

Lawyer Salem Sahoh said there is no article in any law or any legal procedure that allows schools to take a step such as detaining pupils. 

“There is not a single law that allows this or any country that says children should be held responsible for their parents not paying the fees,” said the Sharjah lawyer.

He said the parents of each of the 15 children could file a police report against the school and the principal, charging them with “limiting one’s freedom” and “endangering another’s life”.  

If a criminal court was to find the school guilty, a fine of Dh5,000 could be imposed and each parent could then claim compensation at a civil court.  

The principal of Ibn Khaldoun Private School, in Sharjah, told The National that some parents do not pay on time and, when the school goes easy on them, the fees remain unpaid for three or four years.  

“We find ourselves forced to take action but, of course, according to regulations and laws, yet, we never feel satisfied or happy when taking some action because we know, eventually, any action is not in the favour of the student,” said Adel Abu Naemeh.  

Mr Naemeh added that some parents promise to pay but then do not deliver.  

“We never look at the student as a source of financial gain for us, but the school has high expenses that include wages, electricity bills and official procedures costs like residencies and health cards, which amount to hundreds of thousands,” he said. 

He said schools cooperate with parents and he wants parents to do likewise. 

“Believe me, we cooperate with sudden humanitarian cases like a parent losing his job — we take in to consideration the welfare of the student always,” he said.  

Sheikha Deemas, the principal of Sharjah British International School, said the value of bounced cheques received by her school from parents amounts to half a million dirhams. 

“But there is no excuse for detaining students,” she said.  

Mustafa Al Mousa, the principal of Al Ma’arifa private school in Sharjah, said his school’s electricity bill alone reaches about Dh250,000 in the summer. 

“We have financial commitments, we have several buildings, wages, many expenses but, at the same time, we don’t treat the student as the goose that lays golden eggs, we care for their future, we provide scholarships for some students,” he said. 

salamir@thenational.ae 

* Additional reporting by Haneen Dajani