ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: September 11, 2014 10:40 PM GMT
The Hong Kong Catholic diocese's education department has instructed its schools not to penalize students who boycott classes as part of an island-wide pro-democracy protest.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, a coalition of student unions from eight universities, is calling for a week-long class boycott beginning September 22 to protest against China's National People's Congress Standing Committee, which has set restrictive procedures for electing Hong Kong's next chief executive.
The diocese said in a statement that while it believes its high school and grade school students were "not mature enough" to understand the complexities and consequences of political protest, it advised its institutions not to penalize students and faculty who take part in the boycott.
Diocese spokesman Fung Yat-ming told ucanews.com that the main concern of the diocese is the safety of students. "But if their parents agree, we have no right to oppose," he said.
Students also have taken to wearing yellow ribbons in support of the boycott, which Fung said presented no problem for the diocese as it was not a safety concern.
The Catholic Church is one of the major school-sponsoring bodies in Hong Kong, operating 264 educational institutions for 165,781 students.
According to Scholarism, a Hong Kong student activist group, students in 88 high schools have formed political reform concern groups. Among them, 16 are Catholic high schools.
Francis Lam, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, said the Church statement was acceptable.
However, he worries it "may create a confrontation between students and parents" as the statement demands participating students obtain parental permission.
"Parents mostly do not want to see their children's academic studies being affected while some parents doubt if the movement could reverse Beijing's decision," he told ucanews.com.
"But maturity is not dependent on one's age," said Lam, adding that students should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to take part in the boycott.
Meanwhile, the Anglican Church, another major school-sponsoring body, said students who skip classes will receive lower marks. The church also banned the yellow ribbon adornment, saying it was a breach of school dress codes.
The last island-wide student strike was in 2012, when 286,000 teachers, students and parents took part in a 10-day movement that defeated plans for a required course that critics said was excessively nationalistic and presented a sanitized version of Chinese history.