In wake of 10-year-old girl's death, Hong Kong's schools must not hesitate to call emergency hotline

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2015, 2:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2015, 2:07am

An inquest into the death of a girl who fell from a height at her school two years ago ruled that the evidence was inconclusive to determine whether it was an accident or suicide. What is certain, though, is that CCC Kei Chun Primary School failed to act promptly when the body of 10-year-old Law Cheuk-ki was found lying on the ground before classes began. The coroner also criticised staff members for giving dishonest testimonies and would pass the case to the relevant authorities to see whether disciplinary action or criminal prosecution were warranted.

The open verdict on the cause of death may not bring closure to the girl's family. But it highlights the disturbing practice of some schools to avoid calling 999 in case of emergency, apparently out of fear of negative publicity.

The court heard that although the girl showed obvious signs of serious injuries sustained from her fall, the school only called St John Ambulance but not the police. A worker said he had been instructed by two former principals not to call 999, saying the media would intercept police communications for news reporting.

The two vice-principals with first-aid knowledge sought to give the impression that they had no idea how severe the case was when they attended to the girl, saying she was lying calmly "as if she was just sleeping". But their testimonies were questioned by the coroner, who hit out at what he described as "nonsense and lies".

Putting a school's reputation above pupils' lives and safety is totally unacceptable. Regrettably, this appears to be the case in some schools. According to news reports, some schools have guidelines not to call 999 unless the principal approves. Some guidelines say the school management must be notified before calling an ambulance service. The practice defies common sense to immediately alert police in case of emergency. Guidelines in breach of that spirit must be replaced.

According to the general crisis-management guideline promulgated by the Education Bureau, schools are advised to draw up a crisis plan and act quickly and responsibly. The 37-page document has no shortage of sample letters to parents and media announcements in the event of a suicide or accident involving teachers or pupils. We trust our teaching professionals do not need to be taught when to pick up the phone for emergency help.