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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hong Kong parents threaten to pull children from American International School in fees row

Parents had been pushing for 30 per cent reduction on tuition fees after coronavirus shut schools in city. But some will get just HK$3,000 after paying out more than HK$135,000 for the year

Parents are threatening to withdraw their children from a Hong Kong international school after it offered them a maximum HK$8,000 (US$1,032) rebate on school fees that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A group of parents had been pushing for a 30 per cent cut from American International School Hong Kong, and called the offer “hardly enough” to help them cope with the financial difficulties arising out of the coronavirus pandemic.

The school has applied the financial relief to this and the next academic year. In a letter on Wednesday, head of school Anita Simpson said staff had been looking for ways to support parents during the “unprecedented human and economic crisis”.

“Please note that we expect to receive additional funding from the government’s Covid-19 Employment Support Scheme, and this future funding has already been included in the financial relief measures outlined below,” Simpson wrote.

As part of the scheme, eligible schools can claim up to HK$9,000 per staff member a month, for six months. With more than 90 staff, including teachers and educational assistants, the school could receive a maximum of HK$800,000 a month, and HK$4.8 million over half a year.

Tuition fees range from HK$87,000 to HK$160,200 a year for pupils from early childhood to Grade 12, paid in four instalments each year. Those fees do not cover school outings, or other extracurricular activities.

In the letter, parents were told they could have their fourth instalment in the current school year and the first payment for the next term offset by the relief funding, which ranges from HK$2,500 to HK$4,000 each time, depending on which year the pupil is in.

However, the school also stressed that fees would not be reduced for the current year.

The school has about 600 students this year, according to the latest government figures. If it paid out HK$8,000 for every child, that would cost in the region of HK$4.8 million.

A parent with two young children at the school, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was “very disappointed” at the offer, adding parents would continue to push for a 30 per cent fee cut.

She would receive HK$3,000 in financial support for each of her children in the fourth instalment this year, but not next year as she had already planned to transfer her children to another school.

“This is not a discount on school fees, nor a reduction,” she said. “Plus, those services [such as field trips and school facilities] which we didn’t get to use for most of this year are obviously more than HK$3,000.”

Another mother said she was especially disappointed after paying HK$135,000 a year in fees, plus a capital levy, to only get HK$3,000 back. She also said her child would leave the school.

With other parents also planning to pull their children out of the school, one said teachers had made “every effort in adjusting to the new normal, and I appreciate that … it’s the management that I’ve been disappointed with”.

On Tuesday, the city’s biggest international school group English Schools Foundation announced it would provide an assistance package to parents including a 45 per cent discount on June’s tuition fee, while Nord Anglia International School had offered parents a 12 per cent fee cut in April to June’s fees, following a petition signed by 250 parents.

Classes at Hong Kong schools were suspended from early February because of the pandemic, but were expected to resume in stages in May.

As a result, most of the city’s some 900,000 pupils have resorted to online learning, including more than 40,000 students in international schools across Hong Kong.

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