A teacher charged in connection with the Hong Kong protests has been suspended after the Education Bureau appealed to his school to consider the move, officials confirmed on Wednesday night.
The revelation came after education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said schools must take immediate steps to ensure teachers arrested in relation to the anti-government unrest did not pose a threat to pupils.
Yeung Yun-hung urged principals to assess whether it was safe for academic staff accused of disorder-related offences to continue in their roles, after the teacher and six students were arrested on suspicion of weapons possession.
They were among 12 people held in the early hours of Monday in connection with the carrying of objects in Sheung Shui that police said included flammable liquid, metal nails and an electric drill.
Following those arrests, Tse Ming-kee, a 31-year-old teacher, appeared at Fanling Court on Wednesday charged with one count of possessing an instrument fit for unlawful purposes.
He was said to have been carrying two pairs of scissors, two pairs of pliers and a spanner at a car park in Tin Ping Estate in Sheung Shui early on Monday.
Construction worker Ho Kwok-kay, 39, as well as students Chan Ka-wai, 17, and Lam Hiu-lok, 18, faced a similar charge for allegedly possessing three cans of naphtha, 37 plastic tubes affixed with iron nails, 24 bottles of Chinese wine, and two boxes of unused tubes and nails.
The charge under the Summary Offences Ordinance is punishable by either a fine of HK$5,000 (US$640) or two years in prison.
Speaking after opening the 10th Learning and Teaching Expo 2019 in Wan Chai, Yeung said the Education Bureau was prepared to bar teachers from the profession if protest-linked misconduct revealed through its own complaints system was deemed serious.
In response to the arrests, the secretary for education said: “Any teachers who have been arrested should declare it to the school, and the school as an employer should consider if the teachers are still suitable for work.”
The main considerations for management included the effect on the school and students, and whether the teacher posed any danger to the institution, Yueng said.
He said the point was not to punish teachers but to ensure the smooth running of the school and the safety of students.
The Education Bureau said on Tuesday night that it would ask the employer of the teacher arrested in Sheung Shui to consider suspending the member of staff.
Hong Chi Association, which runs Hong Chi Morninglight School in Tuen Mun, the workplace of the arrested teacher, said it was concerned about the incident.
“Providing students with a happy learning environment to let them grow healthily remains the school’s top priority,” it said in a statement.
The association refused to comment further given ongoing legal proceedings.
The Education Bureau said on Wednesday evening it understood the teacher concerned had been suspended, adding it would maintain close contact with the school.
While education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said school managers must uphold the principle that people were innocent until proven guilty when dealing with cases of arrested teachers, the bureau said the suspension did not assume wrongdoing.
Ip called on the school to ensure the teacher was able to appeal, while having access to legal help and union assistance.
Yeung’s comments came after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called on the bureau to “seriously follow up” on those teachers arrested in relation to anti-government protests, which have taken hold of the city for six months.
She said “violence entering schools” posed safety concerns for schools, parents and students. Lam also called on schools to stop students from taking part in unlawful protests and to warn them to keep away from scenes of violence.
From June to November, the Education Bureau said it had received 106 misconduct complaints relating to teachers and the protests. It had already processed 60 cases, of which 30 were found to involve wrongdoing.
On how the complaints would be handled, Yeung said: “We will look into the background of the cases to see if the teachers have been involved in misconduct to decide how to take necessary disciplinary measures, which would include warnings, reprimands or even deregistration if the offences are serious.”
Meanwhile, a teacher from Tak Sun Secondary School in Sha Tin, faced a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday after audio leaked online appeared to capture him swearing at a student in class and calling protesters “roaches”.
In the recording, the teacher also said: “They have been throwing petrol bombs for five months and still they miss the target. Why not throw better? The same as you guys - having studyied biology for five months and you still do not pay attention.”
When a pupil apologised, the teacher made an obsence comment about the student's mother.
The principal issued a statement on Wednesday admitting teacher's use of inappropriate language when dealing with student misbehaviour, adding the teacher had immediately apologised to the whole class.
“The school does not agree with the wording and examples used by the teacher, as well as how the discipline issue was handled,” the statement said.
“The school has immediately stopped the teacher from using any inappropriate language and making personal comments on sensitive social issues. We will conduct a disciplinary hearing and pass the result to the board.”
Hong Kong has been gripped by more than six months of social unrest sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Among the 6,022 people arrested since June 9, nearly 40 per cent, or 2,393, were students.
At the hearings in Fanling Court on Wednesday, lawyers for Ho and Chan said their clients had been subject to violence when they were arrested by police.
The remaining eight people arrested, including four other students, have been released on police bail. These four students and the two charged are not from Tse's school.
Acting principal magistrate Don So Man-lung adjourned the case to February 5 to allow time for police to examine the flammable liquid and conduct DNA analysis.
So granted Chan bail at HK$5,000 cash plus a surety at the same amount. The remaining three were each allowed bail at HK$10,000. All four must obey a travel ban and a curfew
Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.