The Education Bureau has been urged to provide schools with clear and standardised penalty guidelines in case students breach rules involving the national flag, anthem or emblem, after 14 secondary school pupils were suspended for three days for “disrespecting” a flag-raising ceremony.

The pupils at St. Francis Xavier’s School were accused of missing a morning flag-raising ceremony last Wednesday, local media reported. Students told the outlets that they were eating breakfast at the time.

Students in a hall in St. Francis Xavier’s School. Photo: St. Francis Xavier’s School, via Facebook.

Speaking on an RTHK programme on Wednesday, lawmaker and school principle Tang Fei said that there had been some criticism of the school, calling the punishment excessive. He said it was hard to determine whether the penalty was appropriate because the Education Bureau had not provided such guidelines.

The government only gave schools a guideline on workflow should there be disciplinary actions, such as who to notify and in which order, he added.

Tang Fei. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

“I keep on stressing this [kind of incident] cannot be handled with school-based management because behind [the violation], there is the national flag, national anthem and national emblem laws. The Education Bureau needs to provide standardised and clear guidelines,” Tang said.

School-based management is a framework introduced in 2005 to gives schools “greater autonomy and flexibility in their daily operations, resources management and planning for school development,” according to a government document. In short, the bureau plays a minimal role in shaping school policies and operations.

A flag raising ceremony at a school. Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong passed a bill in 2020 criminalising disrespectful acts towards the Chinese national anthem, with a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

Guidelines issued by the Education Bureau last year require schools to hold flag-raising ceremonies once a week. The bureau also “strongly advises” schools to hold the ceremonies on important and special occasions, such as graduations and sports days.

‘Unacceptable’ behaviour

Although Tang said the line on the severity of penalties was blurry, Tang also said that suspension from classes was “sort of in the middle.” He said a more serious punishment would be marked on a student’s report card, which could affect their future.

File Photo: GovHK.

The lawmaker also disapproved of the behaviour of the teenagers in question.

“Why would the students be having breakfast when it’s time for morning assembly? This is not normal… Even without the flag-raising ceremony, this was a weird phenomenon and it was unacceptable.”

The pupils had breached the school rules and Tang said the school’s handling was acceptable, given it had followed the procedures stated in the available guidelines.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.