Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung has said that his Bureau can dismiss a school principal if they are deemed unfit to handle complaints against teachers.

Yeung said two weeks ago that his department had received 123 complaints about teachers’ professional conduct since mid-June, when mass protests began. Accusations included distributing hate speech, provocative behaviour, using inappropriate teaching materials and committing acts in violation of the law.

In an interview with Chinese state media outlet the Shanghai Observer, Yeung was asked what would happen if the bureau demanded an investigation into a teacher over the protests, but the school was uncooperative or supported the staff member in question.

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

Yeung said that – if a school believed the teacher did nothing wrong – the bureau may consider the attitude and stance of the school and principal to be problematic.

“If we believe a principal is unfit to discharge their duties, we can dismiss them as principals. Every principal is appointed by the Permanent Secretary for Education. We have the legal power to do so, but we will be very careful to exercise this power,” he said. “If the situation is serious to the extent we believe the principal cannot even be a teacher, we can cancel their teacher qualifications,” he said.

Hong Kong has seen seven months of protests, initially against a now-withdrawn extradition agreement with mainland China. The movement has evolved into wider calls for democratic reform, police accountability, and amnesty for those arrested since June as well as full democracy.

Ip Kin-yuen
Ip Kin-yuen. File Photo:

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen told Now TV that Yeung’s remarks amounted to directly pressuring schools to fall in line with the government’s political stance, expanding “white terror” in the sector.

“We believe a principal’s stance should be based on facts and professional judgment, and it should not be a political mission,” said Ip, who is also vice-president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union.

In response to Ip, the bureau said that it was disappointed by the claim of “white terror,” saying the characterisation twisted facts and incited emotions: “Cases of misconduct and unlawful acts involving teachers have increased in recent months, and caused concern in society – this is an inevitable question,” a spokesperson for the Bureau said.

It said the bureau has a responsibility to provide guidance and make corrections if there is objective evidence to show that schools did not handle investigations well.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.