Hong Kong protests: Students distressed by anti-mask law as government steps up reporting measures for class boycotts


New face mask ban will do little to stop social unrest and disturbances, says psychologist group

Joanne Ma |

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Secondary school principals have been asked to tell the Education Bureau how many students boycott class or wear a mask to school on Tuesday.

In issuing the notice to schools about the new anti-mask regulations, the Hong Kong government neglected its potential emotional impact on students and teachers, a group of educational psychologists said on Saturday.

The Division of Educational Psychology of the Hong Kong Psychological Society said in a statement that it had received feedback from educational psychologists and school social workers that many secondary students responded to the news aggressively, showing various levels of distress.

The government’s announcement of the anti-mask regulations in schools was clearly contradictory to its original intention to stop “social unrest and disturbances’’, and the government had seriously misjudged the negative effects stemming from that, the statement said.

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“The government and society must understand that a tough approach and prohibitions would not compel students and young people to accept different opinions,” the statement added.

“Rather, youths should be approached with respect, understanding and ‘the willingness of walking alongside them’.”

It added that the current anti-mask regulation and notice to schools contravened the above principle.

Large amounts of protesters are wearing masks at protests in defiance of the new anti-mask law.
Photo: Winson Wong/SCMP

Last Friday, a letter was sent by the Education Bureau to all secondary and primary schools stating that anyone who uses masks to conceal their identities at any legal or unlawful public gatherings or meetings will be in breach of the law.

The letter also stated there was no need for students to cover their faces for any reason, except for religious or health purposes. “Therefore, in principle, students should not wear masks or cover their faces by any means in or out of schools,” it added.

Meanwhile, secondary school principals have been asked to tell the Education Bureau how many students boycott class or wear a mask to school on Tuesday, as they return to school after a long weekend. Citywide protests were held against the anti-mask law that came into effect on Saturday.

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In a WhatsApp message sent by the bureau to secondary school principals, officials said head teachers should hand over the information this morning via WhatsApp or phone. The principals were asked to make a note of students who take “abnormal leave”, and record any “special incidents” at school.

These include students chanting slogans, staging sit-ins, and forming human chains.

The message also said if the bureau did not receive that information by 11am today, they would call schools for details.

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Last month, just after the start of the new school year, the bureau asked secondary schools for details about students boycotting classes, a source said. But since there was a “calmer atmosphere” back then, the officials did not make it mandatory for schools to supply that information, until now.

Responding to Young Post’s inquiries, the bureau said: “Since the beginning of this new school term, the bureau has been in touch with schools on a daily basis to learn about their situations, including the class boycotts and other incidents.”

The aim, according to the bureau, was to provide relevant support. It also emphasised that it never had, and never would, collect any personal information.