Hong Kong principal absent for police raid on school and her home
Students’ records seized at troubled primary institution in Tuen Mun as top administrator calls in sick and board meets to discuss future
Police raided a troubled primary school in Tuen Mun on Thursday but failed to locate its principal to help them in their investigation, a source said.
Hing Tak School, embroiled in a series of scandals including allegedly exaggerating its enrolment to secure more funding, also Thursday held a board committee meeting to prepare for the school year, which is due to start in less than a month. But principal Chan Cheung-ping did not show up, claiming she was ill.
The committee met to discuss matters such as ensuring there would be a sufficient number of teachers.
Board member Lui Ki-cheung said five members of Tuen Mun district crime squad collected items from the school on Thursday afternoon.
It is understood they seized original documents, such as students’ absence records.
A source said teachers last week saw Chan leaving with her computer server and letters relating to pupils transferring out.
On Wednesday, Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin said the bureau had given documents including student enrolment records to police, who were investigating the case as suspected use of a false instrument.
Police launched investigations into Hing Tak School earlier in the week after the school’s questionable governance record came under scrutiny.
In February, some teachers complained that 21 pupils had been absent for up to two years but remained on the student roster. This, the teachers claimed, was engineered by the school’s principal to attain more subsidies from the Education Bureau and avoid the closure of classes.
In addition, the bureau identified other issues, including its deviation from normal procedure in the firing of two teachers in June, financial problems, and a large number of teachers taking sick leave for a long period of time.
But the principal rejected these allegations on Tuesday, saying many absent pupils were cross-border children on official leave for family or health reasons.
The two teachers who were fired have since been reinstated after their termination was ruled illegal.
But some teachers have been on sick leave for an extended period, citing mental illnesses caused by work.
As of Thursday evening, another source said, police were still looking for the principal in connection with the suspected case of using a false instrument.
“Officers went to the school and the principal’s home but failed to find her,” he said.
It is understood police were trying to reach a school employee in connection with the case.
The source said the vice-principal and another school employee told police they did not sign a document in connection with an interview with a job seeker who was later hired by the school.
He noted the principal also signed the document.
Lui expressed confidence the school would have enough teachers for the new academic year.
Late Thursday, Choi wrote in a blog post the bureau had sent staff to visit the school to check on pupil numbers over the last few years and that the number had fulfilled the requirement to open the number of approved classes. She added that the school did not face a risk of class closures even if absent pupils were not counted.
Choi further wrote the staff also checked attendance records, which stated the reasons for absence such as sick leave, and did not think there was a need to follow up.
The improper practice of an individual school “should not destroy the mutual trust” between the bureau and schools, she added.
Additional reporting by Chris Lau and Ernest Kao