Education authorities in Hong Kong have told schools to handle students who misbehave during national flag-raising ceremonies in a “reasonable, fair and lawful manner” after one campus suspended 14 pupils for skipping an event.
The Education Bureau on Tuesday said it had asked the school involved in the incident to submit a report and would continue liaising with the institution to offer “appropriate advice”.
Schools were also required to educate students on the proper etiquette when conducting the ceremonies, it wrote in a statement.
“Schools should follow up immediately if there are students showing disrespect to the national flag or the national emblem,” it said.
“Schools should also follow up on the issue in a reasonable, fair and lawful manner, according to the prevailing discipline and counselling strategies, with the view to help the students [in question] make improvements.”
The incident last week, which has attracted media interest, occurred when St Francis Xavier’s School in Tsuen Wan suspended 14 students for three days for disrespecting the country’s anthem and emblem when the group failed to attend a flag-raising ceremony.
One of the students, who asked not to be identified, told the Post that he was confused by the harsh punishment, adding suspensions were usually reserved for pupils caught smoking on campus or getting into a fight.
“Although I’m back at school now, I have no idea why I was punished,” he said.
The pupil explained that he was eating breakfast in the school playground when the national anthem started playing.
Admitting he was late for the ceremony, the student said he began walking over to the event the moment he heard the anthem. But the school’s principal intervened and ordered the pupils to pack up and leave, telling them they were suspended, he added.
Another student also called the punishment unfair, arguing that the school’s management had acted without properly assessing the situation first.
“How could you decide this before having any evidence? Everyone in Form Six is racing against time doing past [examination] papers. Have you considered us before suspending us?” the pupil asked.
St Francis Xavier’s School has been approached for comment.
The institution on Monday wrote in a notice to parents that was seen by the Post that the students were punished for “breaking school rules” because they had failed to turn up for the assembly.
It added that assemblies were held at 8am every day, while the mandatory flag-raising ceremony was held on a weekly basis.
“After the assembly began, students were reluctant to return to their classrooms or assemble on the playground. Therefore, the school decided to suspend them from class,” the school said in the notice.
According to an Education Bureau circular released last year, schools are required to hold a national flag-raising ceremony at least once a week and ensure it is displayed every day during term time.
The national anthem must be sung at the ceremonies, with attendance mandatory for everyone at the school.
While the circular did not specify what the penalties are for non-compliance, it said that students who behaved improperly during the ceremony should be stopped or removed from the venue.
Chu Kwok-keung, the education sector lawmaker and deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said suspension was a serious penalty but declined to comment directly on the incident at St Francis Xavier’s School.
“We should look into what has happened and give [students] a chance to explain. A student should admit their wrongdoings and accept the consequences. But, more importantly, they should show a willingness to change,” he said.
Fellow lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen, who represents the social welfare sector, said the matter could have been handled better.
“It would have been better if the case could be handed over to school social workers to handle, instead of imposing punishment immediately,” he said.
But Leo Chu Tsz-lok, the education affairs spokesman for the Democratic Party, urged authorities to review the manner in which the school had handled the incident.
“You can’t boost one’s patriotism by punishing [students]. While there are guidelines from education authorities on the flag-raising ceremony, students should not be taken to task at every turn just for some minor and careless mistakes,” he said.