Most of Hong Kong’s 150,000 senior secondary students on Wednesday marked their first day back in class with excitement, after a four-month suspension due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but dozens looked to defy the city’s government by protesting against two controversial proposed laws.
Principals said the overall atmosphere on campuses was calm, despite student concern groups from dozens of secondary schools calling on pupils to participate in non-cooperative movements such as sit-ins and class boycotts.
Sources told the Post that some international schools had decided to ask their students to stay at home, given the uncertainties on how public transport could be affected by the possible citywide protests on Wednesday morning.
Among the schools were the Stamford American School in Kowloon and The Harbour School, which has campuses on Hong Kong Island.
Both schools had already resumed face-to-face classes, as international schools were allowed to welcome pupils back as early as last week due to their different course structures.
Under a phased class resumption plan, secondary students from Form Three to Form Five have returned to campus from Wednesday, while younger children will return in June.
In Tsuen Wan, a few students took part in a “Walk with You” march from the MTR station to their schools before classes to protest against Beijing’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong and the national anthem bill being debated in the local legislature.
A Form Four student at Po Leung Kuk Lee Shing Pik College, who identified herself as Jenny Chan, 16, said it was a show of defiance against the government.
“We wish to let the government know that many of us have never supported the national security law, unlike what they believed, that all people of Hong Kong would support the proposed legislation,” she said.
A Form Three student from AD & FD POHL Leung Sing Tak College, who only gave his name as Tung, joined the demonstration and said he would also boycott class to protest against the national anthem law.
“If I don’t speak out today, Hong Kong’s future might be more bleak and we might not even get the chance to speak out in the future,” he said.
At least 30 pupils from Lions College in Kwai Chung joined a sit-in on campus and skipped classes, while about 20 students from St. Paul’s College in the Mid-Levels staged a sit-in, according to student concern groups.
A student at CMA Secondary School in Shek Kip Mei held a black flag that read “Free Hong Kong, revolution now” on the playground before classes started.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Wednesday reiterated his call for students to refrain from illegal or dangerous activities, adding that schools should ensure order was maintained on campus.
A spokeswoman added that the Education Bureau was “worried and saddened” following incidents of students wearing uniforms being arrested at protest sites on Wednesday.
James Lam Yat-fung, principal of Lions College and former chairman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said the school had assigned senior teachers and social workers to talk to those who skipped class about their concerns.
He said although the school did not support non-cooperative movements, it hoped to educate and lead students back to the “right path”.
Principal Mak Yiu-kwong of CMA Secondary School said politics should not be brought into the campus, but added: “Regardless of the number of students [protesting], these students have their demands. We will talk to them and educate them.”
Under guidelines for the reopening of schools, students must wear masks during class, keep one metre apart and avoid gatherings.
A 17-year-old student at Leung Sing Tak College said she missed her classmates after months away, but was still a bit worried about health risks at school.
“I really want to meet my friends,” said Tse, who would not reveal her full name. “During online lessons it was easy to get distracted, and now that we can go back to school, we need to catch up with lost time and progress.”
Form Four student Steven Kwong Wai-lok of CMA Secondary School also said he was excited to return to school. “I’ll wear a mask and wash my hands frequently. I won’t have lunch at school and will go home right after I leave the campus.”
However, up to 2,500 students from Forms Three to Five who live on the mainland were unable to return to school on Wednesday and had to continue their studies online because authorities were still sorting out arrangements related to their daily commute.
A survey conducted this month by the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch, a non-governmental organisation, found that 83 per cent of about 5,000 parents of cross-border pupils polled expressed concerns over their children’s learning progress.
There are a total of 27,000 cross-border students studying at different forms in Hong Kong, many at schools in the Tai Po and North districts.
Principal Veronica Yau Kit-yung of Fanling Kau Yan College said the school had live-streamed lessons for students who had to stay on the mainland so they could keep up with their learning progress.
“We have considered different ways to best cater for the needs of [cross-border students]. Of course, the best way is still for them to be able to return to school [in Hong Kong],” Yau said.