Hundreds of parents of pupils at a Tin Shui Wai kindergarten that has been priced out of its premises by a rival chain stood in silence for five minutes last night in protest at the landlord's decision to close it down.
Earlier they called for government action to save Topkids International Preschool, which is due to be ousted from its site in Kingswood Villas before September.
"If we really can't stay in our current campus, the government can at least help us find another premises," said one parent, Kary Lo, adding that parents might take to the streets if the government ignored their demands.
Topkids failed to renew its lease with Fortune Real Estate Trust, a subsidiary of tycoon Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong conglomerate, despite having offered to pay nearly double its rent of about HK$260,000 a month.
It was priced out by rival Zenith International Education Foundation, which operates the only other kindergarten in the private housing estate, but it is not clear how much Zenith has agreed to pay for the premises.
Yesterday, Zenith announced it would offer places to all of the affected children and would charge no more than 5 per cent more than Topkids for tuition fees. Topkids charge HK$3,200 to HK$3,900 per child per month. Zenith's promise means that the increased fees would not exceed HK$3,360 and HK$4,095, slightly lower than Zenith's ordinary tuition fees, which range from HK$3,400 to HK$4,100. Zenith also promised an 85 per cent discount on miscellaneous fees.
At an evening seminar yesterday, parents voiced fears that they might not be able to find places for their children in the five months before the start of the next school year as most kindergartens had already completed their admissions.
Topkids has given parents details of Tuen Mun and Yuen Long kindergartens that still have vacant places. But the headmistress of the Tin Shui Wai branch, Carol Chan Yuk-shan, said many parents preferred to keep their children in the same school. "And only a handful of places are available at similar private independent kindergartens in the district," she said.
About 500 pupils and some 50 employees, including teachers, currently occupy the 20,000 square metre campus that runs morning, afternoon and full-day sessions.
Lo, mother of a three-year-old daughter attending Topkids, said that even though the more expensive Zenith had guaranteed that it would admit all Topkids pupils, she did not want to send her child there.
"There is a reason I chose to let my daughter study at Topkids in the first place," she said. "Zenith already runs one kindergarten in our estate. Why do they want to force ours out?"
Lo, also a representative of a parents' concern group, said she planned to organise a letter-writing campaign with other parents to urge the Education Bureau to help save their children's kindergarten.
A Facebook page created on Monday in support of the kindergarten remaining at Kingswood Villas had drawn more than 4,900 "likes" by 6pm yesterday.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the eviction reflected the vibrancy of the kindergarten market, driven by high demand because of the influx of cross-border pupils.