About 80 teachers in Hong Kong have been arrested over their involvement in anti-government protests, while at least four have resigned or have been suspended the education minister revealed on Friday.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung also urged schools to suspend teachers arrested for serious offences, out of concern for students’ safety.
Yeung revealed the latest fallout of the ongoing civil unrest, which has seen students make up nearly 40 per cent of the 6,000 people arrested.
According to the Education Bureau, there were 123 complaints of protest-related misconduct against teachers between mid-June and late November.
While Yeung said 80 teachers and teaching assistants had been arrested so far, the bureau did not say how many of those had also been the subject of a complaint.
The bureau also revealed four teachers had resigned or had been suspended by their schools, including a teacher charged with possessing a weapon, and a government-school teacher accused of making bias teaching materials. The bureau failed to provide details on the two other cases.
Among the 123 complaints, investigations had been completed in 74 cases, with wrongdoing confirmed in 13 of those, and dismissed in another 30. The remaining 31 cases were initially substantiated, but some are still being reviewed or waiting for explanations from the teachers involved.
Six teachers were either given a warning or condemnation, while seven others were issued with advisory letters.
Apart from the disciplinary action taken by the bureau, Yeung said some schools had also taken other action over the complaints like demotion, postponement of salary increase, or transferring the teachers to another post.
Yeung said at a press conference on Friday most of the complaints the bureau received were related to hate speech or provocative acts, while others involved inappropriate teaching materials or violation of the law.
He said teachers were subjected to a higher standard in their speech and actions, as many pupils were still forming their own values.
“Most teachers are dedicated to their job and have taught students in an unbiased way over the past few months. But there are still some black sheep who caused doubts on teachers and left professional educators in shame,” Yeung said.
“When we talk about the messages or the remarks they made, we are not just talking about their political opinions, we are talking about hate messages, and some of them were very improper, if judged by the standard of society.”
The bureau’s permanent secretary, Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan, also said political views of teachers, or whom they sided with, was not a concern when the bureau was handling complaints.
“Our only concern are the values behind their speech, whether their speech amount to hate speech or whether their speech would have a bad influence on our children,” Ho said.
One of the government-school teachers was suspended over repeated findings of “inappropriate teaching materials”, the bureau said, and disciplinary action would be taken according to Civil Service Regulations.
On Friday, the bureau also issued a letter to principals and supervisors of primary and secondary schools listing how schools should handle cases of teachers arrested over the protests.
It urged schools to suspend teachers charged with serious offences such as arson, assault, rioting or possession of dangerous materials or weapons for the sake of students’ safety.
If teachers were arrested but not charged, schools should also consider whether they were still suitable to teach, or if they should be relocated to other posts.
Ip Kin-yuen, an education sector lawmaker and vice-president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union, accused the bureau of not providing clear guidelines on what constitutes hate speech, or provocative acts, as many of the cases involved comments teachers had shared privately with friends on social media platforms.
“This is completely unacceptable,” he said. “The [Education Bureau] should make it clear which wordings or speech would constitute hate speech, for instance calling protesters ‘cockroaches’,” he said.
Yeung said even when teachers’ comments were made on social media, they could have an impact on others. Teachers should act professionally, according to the code of conduct, even online.
Ip said the union would provide help to teachers who were suspended, or had resigned.
The pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers also agreed the bureau should make public the reasons for punishing a teacher in each case.
Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.