Hong Kong High Court finds 2011 government policy discriminated against students with intellectual disabilities



"After five years in litigation, former principal of special needs school calls on education authority to address inequality." - SCMP wrotes.

Hong Kong’s High Court has found a policy that refused more than 5,000 disabled students an opportunity to study English in schools under native speakers’ instruction to be a “direct discrimination” prohibited under the law and unconstitutional.

In a judgement handed down on Friday, High Court judge Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung quashed a 2011 government decision to reject a school’s application for intellectually disabled students to join the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) scheme. Au found the government’s decision violated the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance.

Law studied at HHCKLA Buddhist Po Kwong School in Fanling, which provides special education to pupils with mild intellectual disabilities.

Barrister Philip Dykes SC, representing the student, requested the court to find the policy illegal and discriminatory as it provided inferior treatment to students with intellectual disabilities.

He said intellectually disabled students had to go to mainstream schools to have a native English speaker teach them.

In his ruling, Au said he would remit the 2011 decision back to the city’s education authorities for reconsideration.

The Education Bureau said it respected the judgement.

“[The bureau] will study the judgement, seek legal advice ... and consider the way forward,” a statement from the bureau said.

Ada Ho How-sim, former principal of HHCKLA Buddhist Po Kwong School, welcomed the court’s decision.

“The ruling has sent a strong message that students with intellectual disabilities do not just need a school place, but also a quality education,” she said.

Ho said they had exhausted every means to urge the government to address their calls, but their efforts were all in vain, eventually forcing them to take the case to court.

“How much time have the students wasted over these five years?” she lamented, referring to the years spent in litigation.

Apart from the NET scheme, Ho said she hoped the government would respond to the court ruling holistically and address other inequalities in the system.

Government figures show there were a total of 5,607 students with mild, moderate and severe intellectual disabilities studying in 41 Hong Kong schools at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

Separately, Hong Kong Unison, an advocacy group for ethnic-minority rights, also made a written submission to the Education Bureau yesterday calling for equal opportunities for non-Chinese children to learn Chinese language in kindergartens.

They were responding to a public consultation on the review of the “Guide to pre-primary Curriculum”, which has not been updated since 2006.