A controversy at a prestigious Hong Kong international school has cast light on the governance of overseas-funded schools, which have contrasting requirements for sitting board members. The German Swiss International School backed down from a plan to suspend the voting rights of non-German speaking parents sitting on its board. It made the U-turn on Wednesday, about two weeks after the plan had been revealed to the Post . The row erupted on the board of the school, which is funded by the governments of Germany and Switzerland, after three Chinese parents who do not speak German fluently were elected as board directors last month. According to an article of the board’s regulations, only members who are fluent in written and spoken German are eligible to become directors. The three parents were each given the title of “pending director” despite being successful in the election in early March. “They obtained a reasonable amount of votes from members but instead of being installed in office like the German-speaking members who also won sufficient votes, they were dismissed for their lack of the language,” a source close to the board told the Post . “In December 2018, the school’s lawyer said that the article was invalid, so members without the relevant language skills would also be able to run for the position of board director of the GSIS Association Board and the school allowed it,” another source said. The source added that the board of the German Swiss International School Association, which operates the school, refused to acknowledge the elected directors because they were not fluent in written or spoken German. GSIS new head gives education a Germanic twist “The non-German speaking candidates each received at least 70 per cent of votes from hundreds of members but the board gave these three the title of ‘pending director’, which has never happened before,” the source said. The school, established in 1969, is famous among the city’s elite, with notable graduates including Leung Chai-yan – daughter of former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying – and lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yan. The school receives subsidies from both the German and Swiss governments, including an annual € 2.5 million (US$2.8 million) from Germany. The German Swiss International School Association currently has more than 1,400 members, drawn from parents and alumni. Of those, 13 are directors and six are non-voting members, including officials from the German and Swiss consulates in Hong Kong. The members are eligible to elect directors to the board, which manages and maintains the school, and approves budgets and other financial measures. One email exchange between the German consul and the chairman of the board on March 29, which the Post has seen, reads: “The German language requirement in the article was fully compliant with the law of Hong Kong. Ignoring these warnings and ignoring the existing rules has led to the situation. “From the perspective of the German consulate general, the election was a clear breach of the articles,” it continued. Mother hits out at ‘victim blaming’ German Swiss International School A source with connections to the board said the consulate was in fact open to relaxing the language requirement, but it felt it was inappropriate for members to dismiss the written article without a formal amendment. “Rules are rules and, until it is changed, members should comply with the language clause that is currently in force,” the source added. But in response to the Post ’s enquiries on Wednesday, the school conceded in a statement that the board article incorporated 15 years ago – which states that only members fluent in written and spoken German are eligible to be elected board directors – is outdated and the school is working to revise and update the companies ordinance. Board chairman Roland Mueksch said three parents were made “pending directors”, as the board was seeking legal advice. The school’s statement also said the three parents were directors from the moment they were elected, without requiring approval or confirmation by the board. “My belief is that it is critical to have a board that is as diverse as the institution and the members it seeks to lead and represent. Clearly articles such as this do not serve the interests of our school community and, most importantly, our children, at this point,” Mueksch, wrote in a reply to the Post. Private school Mount Kelly faces eviction from shop over unpaid rent It was unclear if the school policy was in breach of discrimination law. The Equal Opportunities Commission said the race discrimination ordinance protects people against discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of their race and it is unlawful to discriminate, harass or vilify a person on the grounds of his or her race. “We would have to look at each situation case by case to see if there’s any discrimination because the use of language is not included under the ordinance; however, language used by people is often associated with their race, treatment based on language may discriminate against certain racial groups or may amount to racial harassment,” the commission’s spokesperson said. Another school, the French International School of Hong Kong – which is funded by the French government – told the Post that it has non-French speaking board members and English is used for all documents and discussions.