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Abstract: In early August, 2001, just in advance of a new school year, the Education Department of Hong Kong issued what officials believed to be a standard, non-controversial advisory to the 1200-plus primary and secondary schools receiving government funds, advising them that children that did not have official legal status as Hong Kong permanent residents, did not have a right to public education. Since the last such advisory, however, in April, 1999, the question of immigration policy and family reunification had become politically charged in Hong Kong. Human rights advocates and critics of the Hong Kong Government were concerned that immigration limitations that the Government believed were necessary to prevent a sudden flood of immigrants from south China, were overly harsh. So it was that three months after the issuance of Circular No. 25, one such group would call public attention to the fact that more than 100 children were living in Hong Kong awaiting court rulings on their bids for the "right of abode" but were not being permitted to attend school. As media accounts brought attention to individual cases of children remaining at home, the plight of these "abode-seekers" quickly became a cause celebre in Hong Kong. Within a short time, some in Hong Kong urged school principals at religious and private schools deliberately to ignore government policy and to admit students who, although living in Hong Kong, had not established their legal right to do so. Among the leading advocates of what he cast as a human rights-based immigration policy in this matter was the prominent Roman Catholic bishop Joseph Zen, deeply committed to maintaining in Hong Kong political freedoms that were not protected in mainland China, of which the city had been part since 1997. So it was that a routine memorandum had unexpectedly led to controversy that pointed toward potential civil disobedience.
Learning Objective: This ethics case provides the focus of a discussion about managerial ethics issues as they affect mid-level officials (in this instance, school principals), caught between legal responsibilities and responsibilities to religious authorities and boards of directors.