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Parent launches legal action over school's ban on dropping off students

Disgruntled expat says daughter faces four-hour round trip in absence of school bus in their area

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 9:00am

The Hong Kong International School (HKIS) has been threatened with legal action over its new mandatory busing policy, which one parent says amounts to "blackmail".

Since last week, students at the HKIS Repulse Bay campus have been required to use the school's bus service to commute to and from the premises. Students living nearby are allowed to walk to school, but all others have to take the bus and pay for it.

However, Thomas Hebestreit, a German expatriate businessman whose six-year-old daughter attends the school — has refused to participate in the scheme and has begun legal proceedings against the school for what he views as an infringement of his family's civil liberties.

"I came here [to HKIS] because of the spirit of America. The spirit of America is freedom, the spirit of America is democracy. You guys work like North Koreans," Hebestreit said, addressing school officials.

Although repeatedly expressing their desire to reach a solution amenable to both parties, the officials said Hebestreit's daughter would not be allowed into the school if delivered by private car.

"We're willing to work with you. We're willing to see what can be done with the routes that we have … but there are parameters to what we can do," said HKIS lower primary principal Maya Nelson. "At this point, if people are not walkers or bus riders, they cannot come to our school."

Hebestreit, a resident of Clear Water Bay, initially became disgruntled with the policy after realising that the school's buses would not serve that area.

"It's not only that I get forced to use a bus, but also that there is no bus," he said. "This is like something you see in a comedy … [I thought] it must be a joke."

The school recommended that he drop off his daughter at a satellite bus stop in Central, but Hebestreit said that would significantly increase the time his daughter took to get to school.

He said the school is "blackmailing" parents by using admission into the bus scheme as a prerequisite for studying there.

A statement on the HKIS website says that if parents do not comply, their children's enrolment may be "jeopardised".

Hebestreit's daughter has not attended school since the new academic term began last week.

Hebestreit initiated legal proceedings last week after talks between him and the school stalled.

"HKIS has unilaterally imposed this new policy upon children living in the Clear Water Bay [and] Sai Kung areas, and without providing any school bus service from these areas," said Patrick Rattigan, Hebestreit's solicitor.

"This is unreasonable, unjustifiable and above all damaging to the interests of young children who live in these areas, who will now be forced to spend four hours a day in traffic."

School official Maziar Sabet denied the return journey would take four hours, an estimate he said was "beyond facts".

The school said the policy was to ensure the safety of students and ease traffic congestion, which local residents have complained about.


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This article is now closed to comments

Lot's of people in Germany drive their children to school, or the kids take the bicycle which is almost impossible to do in HK because of lack of bike lanes.
Well according to Mr.Hebestreit, HKIS represents the of the spirit of America? The spirit of America is freedom, the spirit of America is democracy, but he's from Germany, since when did HK become the 51st state of the USA? Is there something i'm missing here or has Mr.Hebestreit landed in the wrong city by mistake?
By the way, nobody forced him to choose that school, where to live, or for that matter, come to HK at all, so if he chooses to come here, you respect the rules and regulations. If not, thanks for coming!
The mandatory busing has been the result of nasty complaints from some nearby residents, who get caught in traffic in the morning and mid-afternoons. Some of them have been absolute lunatics, gunning their cars around parents' cars in the queue to pick up kids, leaning on their horns non-stop, and yelling out the windows. Because, you know, the school suddenly appeared out of nowhere one day and surprised these residents that there would be school traffic!
The school has been leaning over backwards to accommodate these nasty pieces of work, I suspect because they've been asking the government to lease them a surplus school for expansion and need to be seen to be good neighbors.
The Hebestreit's could always vote with their feet & direct the fees to another school nearer to CWB
since it seems online that the father's company is in Cheung Sha Wan
Meanwhile the child is seemingly withheld from mandatory school attendance which is required under HK law

Actually Herr Hebestreit's name is ironic in this situation
in German 'Heben' is to raise and 'Streit' means a dispute /argument
hence he's an aptly named 'dispute raiser'
"I came here [to HKIS] because of the spirit of America. The spirit of America is freedom, the spirit of America is democracy. You guys work like North Koreans," Thomas Hebestreit said, addressing school officials.
Congrats Herr Hebestreit...you're now on the NSA/CIA radar for using USA and NK in same context.
It is not safe for kids to "walk" to school especially when the Hong Kong International School Repulse Bay campus is all children under the age of 14. Does that mean every child with a private car also needs to have a helper walk them up the hill also? That is truly insane. Children ages 4-14 who have used private cars to go to school in the past should not be subject to "walking" to school because several unreasonable administrators are not happy with neighbouring complaints of high traffic intensity. The roads leading up to the campus and surrounding the campus is public roads and is certainly not a private road owned by HKIS. The school has no say in the usage of these roads especially since there are residential apartments in the same area which all of them have cars coming in and out anyway. Reading about these new regulations infuriates me as an alumni of HKIS that was there from age 4-18. If my daughter were forced to "walk" to school, living in Clear Water Bay with no bus route, I would not only sue them for not letting my daughter take a private car to school, but I would sue them for endangering my 6 year old daughter's life and HKIS should be liable to that. Clearly, safety is not as important as collecting outrageous tuition fees, debentures and donations. If not for the generous parents with private cars who have given so much capitol in the past 10 years, would HKIS look as modern and hi tech as they do now?
Dai Muff
Makes no sense. What is wrong with dropping the kids within walking distance and them then being "walkers"?
The school's policy is the right thing to do and all other private schools should follow. Take German Swiss International School as an example, they introduced this policy successfully for its Pokfulam campus already a few years ago (and actually should introduce it also for their other campuses).
However, if a significant number of students come from the Sai Kung / Clearwater Bay area the HKIS should arrange for the appropriate bus service. Why hasn't HKIS done so ?
SCMP: why haven't you reported about the reasons the school doesn't provide bus services for the areas in question ? When will SCMP improve its journalistic quality ?
Healthy debate calls for arguments from both sides to be considered. So where is the argument from the school's perspective?




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