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22 Jun 2017

12-hour relief, long worry for schools

St Paul’s School in Darjeeling
VIVEK CHHETRI AND KINSUK BASU, TT, Darjeeling, June 21: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to relax its indefinite strike for 12 hours from 6am on Friday for boarders of schools to leave the hills, hinting that it will not relent on the statehood agitation.
The authorities of several schools in the hills have expressed concern over the future of the institutions in the wake of the unrest in the region. Teachers of some of the hill schools, which are already facing stiff competition from those in Siliguri and other areas in the plains, feared many parents might admit their children to other institutions in the next academic year.
The 53-odd ICSE schools in the Darjeeling hills have around 18,000 students, many of them from countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Thailand. Several members of the royal families of Nepal and Bhutan have studied in the hills.
The former king of Nepal, Gyanendra, and the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, have been students in the hills.
"The central committee of the party has decided to provide a 12-hour relaxation from 6am on June 23 for students to leave the hills. We request all the schools to arrange for vehicles so that the students can go home," said Binay Tamang, the assistant general secretary of the Morcha.
Tamang clarified that the relaxation would only apply to the schools to send the boarders home.
"The relaxation is only to ferry school students to the plains. Vehicles carrying students should have appropriate stickers," he said.
Political observers said the Morcha's relaxation indicated that the party wasn't willing to go back on the statehood agitation for the time being but would most likely intensify it.
The schools said they had worked out the logistical arrangements.
Father Shajumon C.K., the rector of St. Joseph's School (North Point), said: "The logistics had been worked out earlier as our schools were to close on June 23. The relaxation has come as a relief."
Administrative sources said North Point, which has 466 boarders and 21 teachers, had arranged for four buses and 37 SUVs.
St. Paul's School said it had arranged for eight buses and 30 SUVs for its 370 students and teachers. Mount Hermon will send its 80 boarders and teachers in SUVs.
Administrative officials said that despite the Morcha's "safe passage", some schools had approached the government to provide the students with necessary security during the journey.
"We have decided to offer complete security to the students who will leave for the plains on June 23. We will provide police escort," a police officer said.
A few schools in Kalimpong, which went to summer vacations earlier, had decided to reopen on June 18 but could not because of the strike.
Although the relaxation has come as a momentary relief to the schools, officials of many of them expressed concern about the future of the institutions.
"Even during the statehood agitation in 2013, the schools in the hills had to evacuate the boarders in a hurry and remained closed for about a month," a teacher said.
"The impact was severe. Many parents had admitted their students to other schools because of the uncertainty. Just when it appeared that the situation would stabilise, it spun out of control. This uncertainty will not help the Darjeeling schools. Why should someone send his children to a hill school when one is losing so much on classes and parents are spending sleepless nights," the teacher asked.
Many schools in the hills said they were facing tough competition from those in the plains. The official of a well-known institution said it had been failing to attract a substantial number of outstation students over the past few years.

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