HK parents demand government cover tuition fees for coronavirus-cancelled classes

04-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The Hong Kong government’s suspension of kindergartens and schools for all of February in a bid to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus has sparked outcry among some parents, who are furious about paying for classes their children will not attend. An online petition started on Friday demanding the government foot the bill has gathered momentum, organisers claiming to have garnered 11,330 signatures by midnight Friday.

Earlier that day, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced a string of new anti-coronavirus measures, including extending the suspension of kindergartens and primary and secondary schools to March 1 at the earliest. Whether schools could reopen after that would depend on the severity of the epidemic at the time, school preparedness and the availability of anti-epidemic supplies such as masks, the city leader said.

The statement on the petition, initiated by two people claiming to be local parents of kindergarten pupils, expressed support for the month-long suspension to “lower the risks of cross-infection of students”. The signatories said they understood the need for schools to pay operational costs, but added that parents were left “troubled” by the situation.

They called on the government to pick up the tab to “relieve the financial pressure on parents, and avoid conflicts between parents and schools”, and look into making a standard procedure for compensating parents for their losses during future class suspensions.

Rachel Tong Chung-yee, a spokeswoman for Parents United of Hong Kong, a local concern group, said she had signed the petition and believed the government bore the ultimate responsibility to pay up.

“The government has been deaf to demands to shut the borders to mainland visitors, which would better control the epidemic and prevent a community outbreak. Carrie Lam should not be asking Hong Kong parents to shoulder the burden and pay for her mistakes,” she said.

Tong said that, as a private secondary school parent, she paid tuition fees of HK$18,000 (US$2,317) a month, but public and government-subsidised school parents also had a hefty price to pay, as many still had to cover school meals, buses and other miscellaneous costs for February, on top of the additional costs of taking care of their children at home.

Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector in the legislature, urged the financial secretary to loosen the purse strings in his upcoming budget and reimburse parents for their February tuition fees.

But he did not see the need for a standard reimbursement procedure, saying “suspensions are extraordinary events, and each compensation should be assessed on its own merits”.

The Education Bureau said the secretary for education would meet the press next week to give answers on school suspensions, including their possible impact on the Diploma of Secondary Education exams, due to begin in March.

The flu-like virus, originating from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected 13 people in Hong Kong, officials confirmed, and killed more than 250 people on the mainland.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China by Saturday morning rose to more than 11,700. The World Health Organization declared the epidemic a global public health emergency on Thursday.


Category: Hong Kong

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