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.