Schools say no to staff virus tests

Local | Jane Cheung 10 Feb 2021

An overwhelming majority of secondary schools plan to only resume in-person classes for one-third of students instead of a full resumption after the Lunar New Year.

They cited difficulties in getting all teachers to accept regular Covid-19 tests - a requirement set by the government for schools to resume in-person classes for all students.

On that, when the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools surveyed 338 institutions - or 70 percent of all 470 secondary schools - between Saturday and Monday, they found only nine were willing to test staff regularly and resume half-day classes for all grades.

The association said 89 percent of respondents had doubts about whether it would be practical for all staff to be tested every two weeks, while 85 percent questioned whether schools have the legal clout to make employees get tested.

Most of them criticized authorities for neglecting students' safety by seeking to press on with class resumptions without scientific evidence to back them.

The association, which cited respondents' opinions anonymously, reported one headmaster saying: "A full resumption may increase risks of cross infections and affect the upcoming Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam."

Another said: "The decision to resume classes should be based on the pandemic, not whether staff are tested." And "test resources should be reserved for groups that are in need."

Some principals criticized the Education Bureau for forcing them to make difficult decisions by only allowing full resumption if all staff are tested, adding that it showed up different opinions of parents, staff and schools.

The survey was being debated after 130 secondary six students from Shau Kei Wan Government Secondary School were on Monday sent to quarantine camps after sitting in an exam hall with two infected schoolmates.

One principal said the incident "shook the sector" and made school heads rethink if they should aim for a full resumption of classes.

And the head of the Wan Chai District Headmasters' Conference, Tai Tak-ching, said on radio yesterday that gatherings following the Lunar New Year holiday could lead to a rebound in infections and schools would not like to risk having to suspend all classes or sending students into quarantine when they were involved in final preparations for the HKDSE exams.

Despite that, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said her priority is to resume in-person classes for students after Lunar New Year.

"I've received feedback that students will be affected if they can't go to school for a long time," she explained.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung denied that the administration was pushing the responsibility for making decisions on schools. But some principals had expressed a wish to resume classes for more grades after regular tests for teachers.

"This is a just an option," he said. "We did not requests schools to do this. Neither do we want schools, teachers or principals to feel pressured."

Meanwhile, due to prolonged class suspensions, the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority yesterday announced an adjustment to the School-Based Assessment requirements for current secondary five students, who will take the HKDSE next year.

The SBA in 10 subjects - liberal studies, Chinese literature, English Literature, biology, chemistry, physics, combined/integrated science, technology and living, information and communication technology, and health management and social care - will be canceled.

The weightings or number of SBA tasks required for Chinese language, English language, design and applied technology and visual arts have been adjusted.

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