Yesterday, Trait d’Union, the local French community newspaper published an online Q&A with LFI action.
Find below a translation kindly provided by a volunteer. Thank you!
LFI Action: “Providing information, transparency and dialog for the general good of the French International School of Hong Kong”
LFI Action group was set up last March by parent volunteers in reaction to plans of statutory change of the French International School (FIS); since then, it has reached out, in the spirit of open dialogues, transparency and in the interest of the school community.
Convention or partnership? This question is crucial for the future of FIS and was debated between LFI Action and an audience of 200 people at a meeting organized on May 2nd.
After inviting the FIS Board President, the Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macao, Hong Kong French magazine “Trait d’Union” has interviewed founding members of LFI Action (Marie Faveur, Frédéric Lainé, Alexandre de Saint Léon).
(Interview conducted by Philippe Dova)
Trait d’Union: Why did you set up LFI Action?
LFI Action: LFI Action was set up following a letter published by a group of FIS teachers on March 12th. We realized the lack of transparency and information following the Board unilateral decision to move the FIS away from its current “Convention” status within the AEFE (“French Agency of for Teaching of French Abroad”) network and change it to a “Partnership” status, a few parents joined forces and founded LFI Action.
Who are you and who are LFI members?
The list of the LFI members is too long to name them one by one! We are parents who volunteer to seek for more transparency of the board’s decision-making process, willing to re-establish a dialogue amongst all stakeholders of FIS and foster a smoother management for the good of everyone in the school community.
What did you do first?
We launched an online petition on March 19th and got nearly 600 supporters within 48 hours.
This first action helped all the parents to get a vote at the General assembly on the coming May 23rd. After that, we created www.lfiaction.com to provide information so that everyone can build a well-informed opinion. The website contains all key documents about the convention and the partnership models.
Isn’t this information redundant with the FIS Board communication?
The FIS Board indeed organized several events and webinars, yet both guest speakers and the information presented are rather biased towards the partnership model… LFI Action’s founding and its explicit goal is to inform the FIS community for a well-informed and responsible vote.
Did your actions have an impact on board members?
They certainly did trigger a reaction! Without the petition, the board members would have already made the decision about the change of status unilaterally.
We also noticed that the board had to take into consideration some of our inputs and adjust its case accordingly. In that sense, the dialogue could bear some fruits even though it was an indirect one.
We also would like to emphasize two resolutions we proposed on April 11th and which should have been debated and put to vote at the General Assembly on May 23rd.
Could you please elaborate?
The first resolution proposes an open vote for the hard negotiated new convention. The second resolution is, in case a partnership model resulted after an open vote, we propose to avoid terminating the current convention status until the association votes for a reform the governance, a vision for the FIS and a road map for the transition team.
What would be the goal of such resolution?
The goal would be to keep some of the existing safeguards in the convention until the transition has been implemented. We hope that these two resolutions will be debated and confirmed with a simple majority vote and not legal tricks with a 75% qualified majority. We are currently working on this.
What about the e-consultation between May 13th and 15th?
The board itself mentions it in its email: this e-consultation has no legal value.
However, the e-consultation has a political value since the parents and the candidates to the board’s vacant seats will be legally bounded when the board decides and approves the result of this consultation at its May 16th meeting. We should remember that any decision by the board can only be rescinded by a 75% vote at a General Assembly…
Are you concerned about the transparency of this e-consultation?
We are particularly careful that this e-consultation is conducted with a tried and tested voting system and that this system is certified by a non-partisan agency. This should come on top of the results of the vote itself which will indeed be certified by an independent external agency with enough relevant experience.
Besides, it is regrettable that the vote results will be disclosed on the same day (May 16th) as the closing date for the applications to the vacant FIS board seats. We hope a day will be enough for a few candidates to step out…
What do you actually want?
We would like to inform parents about the stakes, that is, the risks, advantages and drawbacks of the new convention versus a change to a partnership model.
We would like to get the balance right and present the other side of the story besides the one told by the board that is clearly biased towards the partnership model.
We also would like the board to reverse to the initial calendar so that the resolutions we introduced on April 11th can be debated in the original spirit and not be perceived by the board as delaying tactics from our side. As opposed to what the board communicated, LFI Action did not initiate any of the calendar change.
What if you are not vindicated?
We think that parents should vote for the new convention (existing model) as this would be the wisest choice. This will enable the community to resume an open dialogue.
To resume an open dialogue…you actually managed to do this at this public event on May-02nd where over 200 people came to hear what LFI Action had to say…
Many parents had urged us to organize such a public debate between parties with different views so that people can form their own opinion.
Ever since the start of the board’s “campaign”, wrong or contradictory information has been circulating and has had a divisive impact on the community…
This is why we had invited three weeks before May-02nd a few key stakeholders of the FIS community to come to our event for a friendly debate. Those were parents, representative parents and delegates, the FIS principals and education senior staff, associations of French living abroad, consular advisors, the Consul General, the regional coordinator of the AEFE and obviously the board.
All accepted the invitation but the board and its president M. Brunet-Moret declined and told us that the Blue Pool Road facilities were not suitable for a public meeting…
Despite our limited resources and on such a short notice, we could make it thanks to the FIS management, who opened up the school for us and thanks to the help of our members, who organized this big event!
Questions were collected through our blog and representative parents. After the event date was confirmed, we used social media, the word of mouth and our website to call on as many parents as possible.
Is this rejection by the board and its president of a direct and face-to-face dialogue a certain disregard of as well as a lack of courage towards the FIS community?
It is up to the president of the board to answer this question. We nevertheless regret very much that he refused to participate to an open debate . It was a unique opportunity for him and the board members to explain their recommendations to the parents and the teachers in the presence of the entire education management board of the FIS, the Consul General and the AEFE, partners of FIS for many years.
What are your conclusions about this debate?
We provided answers to parents’ real desire to be informed, which may have been underestimated by the board at their town hall meetings and so-called “consultations”.
We would say that this issue is complex and that all parties involved have their share of responsibilities in the current situation. Our community has the capacity for debates and innovation, that we must trust the FIS teachers and staff and give them all the support they need to achieve their goals; hence, the governance and the status of AEFE involvement should be reviewed in order to properly steer the future of FIS.
Most importantly, the majority of the parents are proud of FIS even though it is not perfect and a lot remains to be done to make it more attractive.
Do you think you have enough information to build an opinion about the status change recommended by the board?
At this stage, we believe we are making the most relevant choice given the (partial) view of the situation and the challenges we have identified.
To us and to calm things down, we believe it to be the wisest to follow 13 of 14 French Lycées in Asia, who are in a similar situation since 2015, that is, we should support a renewal of the convention.
To us, this seems the only option for FIS given its governance system, its current status and the complexity of being Hong Kong. Signing a new convention will enable the school and its members to craft a collective and thought-out strategy for FIS future while ensuring that the education team of the school remains independent.
This last point is very important because this team of education experts has the skills and the daily task to implement this strategy. Today, it is obviously necessary to calm things down and bring everybody together for a less uncertain future.
If more radical changes were truly necessary, we could still change at a future date. However, let’s not forget that if we change to a partnership with the AEFE, there will be no way back. This was reminded and explained by the Consul General and the head of the AEFE at the May-02nd event.
Which points are still missing in order to make an informed decision?
Unfortunately, the board does not have a clear strategic vision. It only offers a list of good intentions such as “an innovative school, …a caring school, …to leverage on the strengths of the FIS…”. These intentions are welcomed but they are unfortunately very vague and do not request any change to a partnership model they recommend.
Is there a problem with the method?
Basically, we believe that the method employed by the board is wrong. We should have started by defining this vision collectively in a spirit of consensus. This vision would have guided our choices in terms of governance and our relationship with AEFE.
As of today, we have no clue where the board wants to lead us.
We also would like to understand the reason why the board stopped negotiating with AEFE. As a matter of fact, AEFE has made many compromises, especially regarding the local situation of the school and the language policy.
As of next year, the OIB syllabus will be offered to the Primary section. Its true that the process might be slow but the institutions are listening to the parents.
We also believe that parents wanted to hear more what teachers had to say about this. Having said that, we decided not to expose them more to this debate. Some of them had already showed a strong commitment by participating to an open letter and a common statement.
One thing is sure, the school enjoys a high degree of recognition and the children are happy to study here. Making a choice in a rush to change the relationship with AEFE to a distant one is a risk that will jeopardize the current situation against non-proven benefits…
What do you request from the board?
We want the board to play its management role and respect the entire community through transparent communication that does not exceed its mandate.
We also want the board to open up and realize this is not the time to force a decision but bring together the community behind the school. Lastly, we want to work together at a satisfying solution for the common good.
What’s next for LFI Action?
We will continue to inform parents with objective facts until the vote takes place. We will also assume our responsibilities as part of the community.
We are basically neither pro-convention nor anti-partnership but we believe that the debate did not happen in an objective and neutral manner.
We understand and respect the fact that it took time for the board to come up with this project. However, it seems that the democratic process and the right of the community to respond is not respected. Although our resources are limited, we will go on and work for the good of the parents who support us and the values of the community.
These past few weeks helped parents to better understand how the school works and to be more involved. We hope that this will continue for the good of the school and each of our children. If parents ask us to go along with this movement and lead it into concrete action, we will listen to them.