Hong Kong Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung has warned that teachers could be suspended if they are arrested on suspicion of committing serious crimes.
Yeung said at a press conference on Friday that around 80 teachers, including teaching assistants, have been arrested recently.
A government school teacher has been suspended for allegedly using “inappropriate teaching materials” and will face disciplinary action over whether they should remain at the school, according to Yeung.
Two other teachers have been suspended by their schools and, separately, two teachers have left their jobs after complaints were filed against them.
Hong Kong has seen seven months of protests, initially against a now-withdrawn extradition agreement with mainland China.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.
“If individual teachers were involved in, or may be involved in, serious criminal prosecution procedures, or involved in serious inappropriate acts, schools could suspend them providing that it does not violate the relevant restrictions under the Employment Ordinance,” Yeung said.
“This is for students’ safety to prevent them from being affected by the [protests], in order to maintain the normal operations of schools. This is a professional and appropriate arrangement. This is absolutely not convicting them without a trial,” he added.
Yeung’s bureau received 123 complaints about teachers’ professional conduct since mid-June, accusations included distributing hate speech, provocative behaviour, using inappropriate teaching materials, and committing acts in violation of the law.
An investigation of 74 cases has been completed. 30 cases were unsubstantiated, and 31 cases were preliminarily substantiated. Yeung said his department was still awaiting responses from those involved in the 31 cases.
Punishments have been handed out to teachers involved in the remaining 13 cases, including sending condemnation letters to five, and a warning letter to another, Yeung said. Yeung warned that teacher registrations of the 13 may be cancelled if they commit professional misconduct again.
Yeung added that seven of the 13 received advisory letters, reminding them not to do anything that may damage the professional image of teachers. He said some of the 13 cases involved making hate speech on private social media accounts.
“Even if teachers were making remarks on private social media accounts, their remarks represent their thoughts, and they may be forwarded [to other places] and affect people around them,” he said.
Yeung said teachers participating in approved protests will not be punished.
Permanent Secretary for Education Ingrid Yeung said the suspended government school teacher used inappropriate teaching materials multiple times.
“We can see twisted values that society would not accept in the teaching materials,” she said. She said the case was not related to the teacher’s political stance or recent social events, without elaborating further.
She said that a student filed a complaint over the teacher materials.
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