Two of Hong Kong’s English Schools Foundation (ESF) institutions have said that they will not endorse the global “#FridaysForFuture” school strike campaign, which encourages pupils to skip school to protest government inaction on climate change.
However, they stopped short of a full rejection, saying that parents have a choice to take their children out of school. Their absences will be noted as “unauthorised” but it is unclear what punishment, if any, will result.
Organisers have called for a class boycott after being inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who staged a school strike outside parliament in Stockholm last August over climate change. Her movement has led to walkouts at schools across Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries.
Students are set to march to government headquarters next Friday from Chater Garden, Central, after police told them that their initial chosen location of Victoria Park was unavailable.
In an email obtained by HKFP, South Island School told students and parents that it agreed with the campaign in principle, but could not give permission for students to go to the protest unsupervised.
“Our first – and most important – responsibility to the young people who have been entrusted into our care is their safety,” the email read.
The issue of climate change is of vital importance – and we have created a culture within our school where we encourage our students to be aware of global issues and to be citizens of the world. Therefore, we support in principle our students taking a stance on an issue as important as this. However, we have to concern ourselves with the practical side of this proposed day of action.
Our first – and most important – responsibility to the young people who have been entrusted into our care is their safety. We cannot simply allow students the day off to attend an unsupervised event. To do this would be to abandon our commitment to preserving and protecting their safety and wellbeing.
We also realise that not all of our students or their families will be in support of this day of action. We will not disadvantage those students who do not wish to be a part of the day of action and are, therefore, seeking to attend school as normal.
Our staff will be at work on that day and South Island School will be open as normal.
If you do choose to take your son or daughter out of school on this day, although we cannot officially authorise their absence, please let us know in advance, so that we can plan accordingly.
We realise this is a complicated situation. Therefore, our tutors will be discussing this further with their tutor groups during the course of this week, to make sure that all students fully understand the school’s position.
Coincidentally, this message is being sent to you during South Island School’s annual Green Week. We applaud the ongoing efforts of our Sustainability Council to educate our students, staff and community about the ways in which the choices they make as individuals can collectively make a difference to climate change and other issues of sustainability. However, we do hope you understand that our support for principled action can never outweigh our duty to keep our young people safe and in school.”
“We also realise that not all of our students or their families will be in support of this day of action. We will not disadvantage those students who do not wish to be a part of the day of action and are, therefore, seeking to attend school as normal,” the school added.
When asked by HKFP about whether the protesting students will face any penalty, SIS did not respond.
Organisers welcome response
The student organisers told HKFP that they were “very pleased” with the school’s reaction, calling it supportive and “ideal.”
“It also seems like this might ease the minds of parents too as the school is supportive. Hopefully students will join us more confidently too,” they said.
Sha Tin College also sent an email to its student body, saying that it could not give permission to students to attend the rally.
Dear Parents/Guardians and Students,
As you may have heard in the media recently there is a climate change global day of action being organised by students worldwide for Friday 15th March.
In line with our fellow ESF schools and ESF guidelines please note the following:
1) The school cannot give students permission to attend the rally.
2) The school will not organise a teacher-supervised field-trip to attend the rally.
3) We recognise parents/guardians may give their children permission to attend the rally. Parents/guardians can notify us in the usual way of their children’s absence from school on that day. The absence will be recorded as an unauthorised absence.
While the school fully supports student action and engagement regarding global issues, we hope you find this communication helpful in any discussions you may be having with your child.
“We recognise parents/guardians may give their children permission to attend the rally. Parents/guardians can notify us in the usual way of their children’s absence from school on that day. The absence will be recorded as an unauthorised absence,” the email read.
Both South Island School and Sha Tin College are operated by the English Schools Foundation and are classified as international schools in Hong Kong. Organisers told HKFP last week that they have struggled to reach out to the local Chinese community though – as of Thursday – 317 Facebook users had clicked “attending” on their event.
Previously, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau had spoken out against the march.
“While we respect the right of students to express their opinions in a rational, peaceful and legitimate manner, we are opposed to boycotts of classes since any form of boycott of classes will disrupt the order in schools and interfere with the normal learning of students and operation of schools,” a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, students are set to host a banner-making workshop on Lamma Island on Saturday to prepare for the march next week.