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Immediately stop spreading white terror
EDB administers speech crimes and infringes without reasons teachers' personal freedom of speech
Among the complaints involving teachers' professional conduct in recent social events, about 30 cases have, as revealed by the Education Bureau (EDB), been initially established. EDB will consider meting out such punitive measures as issuing warnings and reprimands to teachers involved and even revoking their registration. However, HKPTU and my office have, since August this year, received more than 20 cases of teachers seeking help, 17 of which involved complaints to EDB based on teachers' remarks on social platforms. Among them, 9 cases have been ruled as involving professional misconduct. To our surprise, EDB has accepted anonymous complaints, most of which involved nothing but teachers expressing, in a private domain, their personal feelings. Besides, most of their posts were limited to circulation among friends. During the process of investigation up to the making of rulings, EDB has seriously violated procedural justice. Playing up these private remarks, EDB considers them as professional misconduct and states that teachers involved may be subject to de-registration, thus spreading serious white terror in the education sector. Any complaints against teachers must, we believe, be handled in a fair and equitable manner. We are strongly opposed to EDB's current practice of sentencing people based on their speech.
The way of investigation violates procedural justice
Among the complaint cases, 5 involved EDB conducting investigations only indirectly, i.e. carrying out investigations through schools and without directly notifying the teachers involved nor providing them with relevant information. It was not until EDB wanted to tell teachers concerned that they had been ruled to have committed professional misconduct that EDB made their first contact with the teachers involved. Even then, teachers were not given any concrete reasons leading to the rulings of professional misconduct. The rulings had been made in a very hasty manner. EDB's approach was a serious hindrance to teachers having access to the contents of complaints lodged against them for making self-defence, and a failure on the part of EDB in fulfilling its responsibility for notifying, soonest possible, teachers concerned of complaints having been lodged against them. It was not until EDB had ruled that teachers complained against had violated professional conduct that EDB made their first contact with teachers, thus unreasonably depriving them of their right to self-defence.
Furthermore, when teachers complained against took the initiative and asked EDB to let them know the nature, objectives, procedures and consequences of investigations, the only answer given to them was that if a complaint was, in the light of all relevant information, found to be established, EDB would, in accordance with established procedures and practices, take appropriate follow-up actions. However, EDB did not clarify what the procedures and practices were, nor did it provide any concrete details.
The cases in respect of which teachers sought our help were invariably 'anonymous complaints'. EDB failed to say whether it had ascertained the identity of the complainants, whether the complaints were based on accurate information, or whether EDB had effectively verified and established the complainants as bhonest and reliable. Without such elements having been ascertained, EDB rashly conducted investigations and even meted out punishments. This is extremely unfair to the parties complained against. We also query whether EDB has clear and non-discriminatory guidelines on the handling of such complaints.
Our stance and requests
We urge EDB to stop hastily initiating investigation cases involving teachers' remarks and snapshots on private social platforms. Doing so violates teachers' personal privacy. EDB should not accept information suspected to have been obtained by illegal means as a basis for accusing teachers of professional misconduct. Such investigations must be discontinued and rulings arising therefrom quashed.
For any disciplinary issues involving teachers, hearings should be arranged and teachers should be allowed to be accompanied by union representatives or lawyers. EDB should also provide teaches involved with complainants' identity so as to enable teachers to know whether the information in a complaint has been obtained through illegal means.
EDB should, in respect of a complaint, consider the adjudication of the Council on Professional Conduct (CPC) before making a final decision. The Government should also seriously consider the aspiration of the education sector over the years for the establishment of a statutory Teaching Professional Council as soon as possible so that the education sector can, through such a statutory body, deal with teachers' professional qualifications to teach and professional conduct and take responsibility for matters ranging from levels of professionalism to training and disciplinary investigations.
Representative of Hong Kong Professional Teachersb Union
in Legislative Council,
Hon IP Kin-yuen
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Corresponding Address: Room 919, Legislative Council Complex, 1 Legislative Council Road, Central, Hong Kong