Thane School Molestation Case: Principal, Headmistress & COO Sacked

Thane School Molestation Case: Principal, Headmistress & COO Sacked

A bus attendant employed by the travel agency contracted by the school for the picnic allegedly touched the private parts of children while providing them with snacks.

Rizwan Sheikh Musab QaziUpdated: Friday, February 23, 2024, 05:16 PM IST
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For the last two days, parents have been protesting outside the school, demanding that the entire school management be fired. | Musab Qazi/ FPJ

Two days after seven second-grade students from a private school in Thane were allegedly molested by a bus attendant at the school picnic, three top authorities at the institute - chief operating officer (COO), principal and headmistress - have been sacked.

The school management decided to terminate the services of the trio on Thursday to carry out an internal probe into the alleged incident in an "objective manner" and without "any influence". A day earlier the school had also dismissed three teachers who had accompanied kids until the completion of the inquiry. The decision came following an unrelenting push from parents who were aggrieved by what they saw as the school staff and administration's failure in handling the situation.

According to a First Information Report (FIR) registered by the city police, the purported incident occurred on Tuesday while returning from an outing at a theme park in Ghatkopar. A bus attendant employed by the travel agency contracted by the school for the picnic allegedly touched the private parts of children while providing them with snacks. The alleged culprit was arrested under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

For the last two days, parents have been protesting outside the school, demanding that the entire school management be fired. On Thursday, one of the school trustees met with ten representatives of the parents, who were joined by the local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). The meeting resulted in the three school officials being terminated and parents being assured of a fair inquiry by a committee that would include parents' representatives. Many of the parents, however, continued to be upset with what they termed as "arrogant" behavior by the school authorities.

The parents were particularly upset as the school had not informed them about the involvement of the outside agency in taking kids to a picnic. They also pointed out that, unlike the regular school buses, the vehicles arranged by the travel agency didn't have CCTV cameras. "While the parents were asked to sign a consent form, they were not informed about the third-party vendor. We assumed that the kids would be taken on the school buses. We were in the dark," said one of the parents.

The parents also blamed the teachers accompanying the students on the bus for not being vigilant enough. They alleged that the school authorities were initially dismissive of the parents' claims. "They said that all of it was a lie. They said that such incidents are commonplace at railway stations and airports," said a parent. Another parent claimed that the authorities "laughed" in their face.

The school officials, however, denied these allegations, as they asserted that they were helpful to parents and even facilitated the arrest of the alleged perpetrator. "The alleged incident came to light when one of the mothers was told by her daughter about being touched inappropriately. We assured her of immediate action and contacted the travel company and informed about it. We had also planned to submit a complaint to the police the Wednesday, though an FIR was registered on Tuesday evening itself. The mother was satisfied. We also offered words of encouragement to the student for coming to report the harassment," said the school's former COO.

The officials said that the Byculla-based travel agency has worked with them ever since the school was set up in 2015, and found no issue with them until this week. Many of the other education institutes in the city and those run by the school management in Mumbai and Pune have been hiring the same company for school outings, they said. The school has now ended its involvement with them and has also canceled the picnic trips planned in this academic year.

The officials also refuted allegations against the teachers accompanying the children. "They were asked to keep an eye on the children. They were helping them open the food packets," said the former principal.

The school, however, said that the trip was a "big lesson" to them as they now plan to inform the parents about the involvement of third-party agencies beforehand. They also said that they would ensure that all the buses to be equipped with CCTC cameras.

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