- School committee determined acting vice-principal Ho Pak-yan was unaware of the Cantonese poem’s hidden message
- The poem spread quickly on social after a riot police officer was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus at a dinner with fellow officers
The acting vice-principal of a Hong Kong secondary school has been demoted for sharing an anti-police acrostic poem on social media, but will keep his job after the school's directors found the act unintentional.
An inquiry by Confucius Hall Secondary School's management committee found teacher Ho Pak-yan guilty of serious negligence and a lack of professionalism, but spared him dismissal as he was unaware of the text's message and said he was sorry for sharing it.
Ho shared the Cantonese poem on Facebook in the early hours of Sunday, part of which read "being black-hearted is not so good, cops are just doing their jobs". Another section read "whole community should come together and fight the epidemic as the most effective thing to do, family support is also very important".
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Unbeknownst to the former deputy school head, the first word of each of the poem's 11 lines spelt out "rogue cops and families go to hell, not one member less".
The poem quickly spread across social media over the weekend after a riot police officer on Thursday contracted the deadly coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19. Some 50 other police who attended a banquet with him were placed under quarantine.
Despite deleting the post that morning, Ho was suspended on Monday. The Education Bureau contacted the school over the incident on the same day.
In the subsequent internal investigation, Ho told the committee the text did not originate with him, and that he had shared it to show genuine support for the city's efforts in combating the coronavirus.
A school statement posted on Facebook after the probe said the teacher was "deeply sorry".
"Mr Ho Pak-yan expressed remorse for this reckless sharing, and felt disturbed by how the incident had brought negative impacts to the school," the statement said.
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The committee decided not to sack him in consideration of his working attitude in the past.
The statement said Ho agreed with the committee's decision and pledged to be prudent in the future.
In a detailed reply, the bureau reiterated that teachers should not make statements that "breach publicly acceptable morals and values", and violators might face warnings or even disqualification.
"We emphasise that this is not to restrain teachers from expressing their views on social incidents or political ideals," a bureau spokeswoman said. "Be it in Western countries or Hong Kong, freedom of speech is not free of boundaries, (and it) must be exercised reasonably and lawfully, while respecting others."
The bureau had requested the school file a report on the incident, the spokeswoman added.
Latest figures from the Education Bureau showed that of 147 complaints received about teachers' behaviour between June and December of last year, wrongdoing had been confirmed in 65 cases. Of those, follow-up action had been taken in 32 instances, including the issuing of warnings and condemnation letters.
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