Hong Kong secondary students formed a human chain on Friday in a show of solidarity with a music teacher who reportedly did not have her contract renewed after she let students play a protest anthem during an assessment.
Dozens of students showed up outside Heung To Middle School (Heung To) in Kowloon Tong on Friday afternoon. They displayed signs and chanted slogans in support of the teacher who accused the school of not extending her contract because of her political stance.
According to the Heung To Indigenous group on Instagram, a teacher surnamed Lee sent an email to students and teachers on Monday. She expressed discontent and disappointment over the failure of the school to provide a formal explanation after informing her about the contract termination in early May.
Lee said that, during a meeting with principal Joe Wong in late January, he mentioned the institution’s management committee thought her political standpoint did not align with that of the school. The committee cited rumours that Lee failed to ban students from playing Glory to Hong Kong – an iconic anthem of the city’s year-long anti-extradition bill movement – during a music assessment.
The school also described the song as “inappropriate.”
Lee said she had reminded students to choose their assessment songs carefully, but said pupils had the freedom to pick whatever song they liked. She added this had been the practice for previous assessments and the school never gave clear instructions on what type of songs had to be banned.
She also slammed Wong as making “baseless” allegations that she had discussed politics in a “high profile manner” at school.
Students at Friday’s human chain protest criticised the school’s decision as unfair and called it “political suppression”. A Form Two student surnamed Fung told reporters at the scene that the decision to play the protest anthem during the test was regretable.
“The school has opposed the class boycott, saying they hoped there would not be political activities at school. But now they are using political reasons to fire the teacher. I want to know: how does the school judge what is politics,” Fung said.
Police arrived at the scene and warned participants of the human chain event that they would be seen as violating the Covid-19 social distancing rules. Public gatherings of more than eight people are banned during the pandemic. Students later dispersed after a police warning.
Hong Kong education chief Kevin Yeung has called Glory to Hong Kong a “propaganda song,” saying pupils should not sing it at schools.
Speaking on Commercial Radio on Thursday, Yeung said pop song Love the Basic Law, on the other hand, was for “rule of law education” and therefore would not be seen as a political act.
Yeung’s remarks came a day after he told principals in Hong Kong to punish students who chant slogans, sing political songs or form human chains. Schools can also call the police as a last resort when handling students who disrespect the Chinese national anthem, the Education Bureau head said last week.
When asked if students can sing revolutionary songs from Les Misérables, Yeung said it depends on the circumstances and whether it carries “political aims.”
“I hope students can focus on learning. When the national security legislation articles are out, the Education Bureau will issue teaching materials and do promotion through schools,” he said.