Parents of cross-border pupils fear their children will be discriminated against when Hong Kong schools reopen, with most saying it would be unfair if quarantine rules stopped the students from attending classes, according to a survey.
About 28,000 students who attend school in Hong Kong but live in mainland China face an uncertain future after strict restrictions were imposed on crossing the border to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
The city’s schools are closed until at least March 16 as part of the government’s emergency response to the health crisis, which has hit daily life and businesses hard.
But the cross-border students, who are permanent residents of Hong Kong, may not be able to return on the same day as their peers who live locally if the 14-day mandatory quarantine rules imposed on anyone entering the city from the mainland remain in force when classes resume.
A survey released on Wednesday by the non-governmental organisation International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS-HK) found more than 56 per cent of the 3,000 cross-border families polled said it would be unreasonable if their children were unable to return to Hong Kong for the reopening of schools.
Of those, nearly 64 per cent worried about their children suffering discrimination at the hands of other students if cross-border pupils were the only ones not going back to school.
Eighty per cent of the responses to the poll, which was conducted between February 7 and 12, are from mainland parents with children born in Hong Kong. The rest are from families with one or both parents having Hong Kong residency and living on the mainland.
Among the city’s cross-border pupils is 11-year-old Li Xiang-fei, who attends a primary school in the New Territories town of Tuen Mun and left Shenzhen on the other side of the border for Hong Kong with his mother two weeks ago. The Primary Six student was born in Hong Kong to mainland parents.
But the family faces a dilemma because the mother’s visa expires next month, forcing them to return to the mainland potentially without knowing whether he can return to Hong Kong for the eventual return of schooling.
His mother Yin Xiao-qing, 36, said she decided to bring Li and his seven-year-old brother to their flat in Hong Kong on February 3 in preparation for the resumption of classes.
She said they originally planned to stay for a week and then return to Shenzhen, but their plans were disrupted when the government closed most border checkpoints and imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine period on those entering Hong Kong from mainland China.
Yin, who works in marketing at a Shenzhen-based telecom company and occasionally travels to Hong Kong for work, said she held a seven-day endorsement for a business visit. Despite getting a one-month visa extension, it will expire by early March.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m supposed to go back to work in Shenzhen [as early as next week],” she said.
“It’s a dilemma for me. Even if I want to stay in Hong Kong for longer, my visa expires soon. But I don’t want to delay my children’s learning.”
Both her sons would have to resort to online learning if they had to return to the mainland, but that would present challenges because some websites were not accessible there and the school had not laid out an alternative plan, she said.
Hong Kong’s education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said last week his bureau had been considering different options, including whether cross-border pupils could stay in the mainland when schools went back, but he said a decision had not yet been made.
Torres Lee Chi-hung, service coordinator at ISS-HK who focuses on helping cross-border families, said many parents were anxious to know about the arrangements.
“Many cross-border parents do not even have access to the latest class suspension arrangements in Hong Kong as some news outlets are inaccessible,” he said.
“I think the most important thing is to minimise the impact on these cross-border students … for instance a uniform decision on resumption of classes for both local and cross-border students after the outbreak is contained.”
The Education Bureau said on Wednesday it would continue to consider arrangements for cross-border students and would release details closer to the return date.