For the first time in the state, a police case was slapped on Wednesday against the Correspondent of a private school and four other trustees under the Tamil Nadu Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act 2009.
The legal action against the school was seen as a victory for parents who had been protesting against the school's demand for an exorbitant caution deposit.
However, within 24 hours of the legal action, several parents and alumni of the school have taken to social media to extend their support to the erring management and have demanded that the correspondent be freed.
This online campaign, sparked off on Twitter, seeks to save the face of the Srimathi Sundravalli Memorial (SSM) group of schools and its Correspondent K Santhanam.
Sporting the hashtag #SupportSSM, the tweets reveal a sharp divide in the view of parents who have admitted their wards to the school.
Over 200 parents took to the street last week against the school boardâ€™s illegal demand of a Rs 2 lakh caution deposit. Despite the blatant violation of the law, some parents now claim that the matter can be sorted out through discussion and need not have been escalated to this extent.
"I was also genuinely concerned when the circular initially came, but a group of us decided to take up the matter with the correspondent directly. The first mistake he made was refusing to meet the parents," says one parent, who approached TNM to 'clarify' what happened.
"SSM is the only school that has a transparent method to pay fees. We sign an undertaking stating the exact amount we paid and it mentions that additional amount taken as part of the fees is for the state-of-the-art facilities available at the school. Parents are also willing to pay this money because we really appreciate the morals, values and safety of students in the school," he adds.
Another parent told TNM that the Correspondent had asked the parents to pay the caution deposit via a bank transfer and hence was not doing anything 'out of the books'.
"This is a refundable amount which the school returns to the parents when the child leaves the school. This was not a deposit. Even I was distraught when we got the circular demanding us to take a decision suddenly. I have two kids studying in the school and for me, I would have to spend Rs 4 Lakhs next year. The school actually takes the students on tours, etc. and they don't charge a penny extra,â€ť she stated.
â€śThe accusations against him that he made derogatory statements against the parents and students have surfaced because suddenly parents with political backings came with their men and surrounded the school,â€ť the parent added.
#supportSSM @edapadi @KASengottaiyan @SengottaiyanKA @PMOIndia we don't accept the arrest of Santhanam sir of SSM school based on the complaints of just 5 parents while 9995 parents are supporting him. Best school in our area. Please help us get back Santhanam sir,ssm.â€” Jayashree (@Jayash108) July 25, 2018
A change.org petition has also been launched by some to support the school.
Several other parents told TNM that they were even ready to pay the Rs 2 lakh fee by taking loans, as it was a question of their children's future.
"We have never had an issue with the school's management before this. Santhanam is loved by the children and has always looked out for their well-being," says another parent.
"He is currently mired in some financial issues because of investments in some real estate projects," he points out.
But when TNM mentions that the demand of Rs 2 lakh as caution money is illegal, parents acknowledge the matter, but believe it could have been sorted out through better communication.
The Correspondent had further spoken to the students in a derogatory manner, likening parents to beggars.
"Yes, he has shattered the very morals and values that the school claims to teach," the parent admits.
Some parents, who appear to be pro-management, have allegedly been threatening the others to withdraw their protests.
A woman, who has two children admitted to the SSM school, tells TNM that she has been receiving hostile phone calls from some parents questioning why she was protesting against the deposit.
"Parents of children in higher classes fear that it will affect their studies if we protest now. But how can I give Rs 4 lakh for two children? If we allow it now, later when they ask for more money, what will we do?" she asks.
Meanwhile, the school management on Wednesday sent out a circular to parents stating that several basic amenities will be cut down in the institution following the withdrawal of the demand of Rs 2 lakh.