Wednesday, December 05, 2007

 

Hilo principal unable to control bullying and assault, punishes victim


by Larry Geller

Bullying has struck again in a Hawaii school, this time leading to injury—and punishment of the victim. This isn't exactly "Disappeared News", it was a featured news story in today's Star-Bulletin. What is missing (and perhaps they will follow up) is what action the Department of Education will take in view of the situation at the school and the attitude and actions of the school administration, as reported in the story.

HILO » On Nov. 15, schoolgirl Evelyn Higgins, 12, suffered bruises and a gash in her head in an attack by a group of girls.

One schoolmate grabbed her hair and hit her head against a wall four times. The gash required 10 surgical staples to close.

Tomorrow Waiakea Intermediate School will formally respond to the attack by punishing ... the victim.

That's when Evelyn will receive one day of in-school suspension for calling one of the girls a "slut," according to her father and stepmother.

Punishment will also be meted out to the girl who slammed Evelyn's head against a wall, said Evelyn's father, Jeff Higgins. [Beaten girl suffers school discipline, Star-Bulletin 12/5/07]

One of the problems with this is that the story suggests that the school has been tolerant of bullying. It is hard for a "pack" of 14 students to form under the nose of school officials unless they are looking the other way. That they are using the excuse that the victim struck back verbally to punish her while apparently letting the other bullies off the hook is troubling. What of the other 13 "pack" members? The story says nothing, supposedly because the school said nothing to the reporter.

The victim was no dirty-mouthed troublemaker:

She made the honor roll and won placement in an advanced math class. And initially she had no trouble with the other students.

"The first three months were fine," [her mother] said.

Then the same group of girls started making fun of her blond eyebrows, and bad feelings escalated. The day before the attack, she told her father, "Don't be surprised (if something happens) because these girls have been threatening me."

The next day, a "pack" of up to 14 girls followed Evelyn around.

"My friends were terrified for me," Evelyn said.

Higgins believes the attack was racially motivated because the attacker used the phrase "f---- haole."

The article doesn't say what punishment might be planned for the attacker, but the police have classified the attack as a felony.

The article mentions no action against the other 13 members of the "pack" nor any measure that the school is taking to end what appears to be organized bullying or even gang activity on its watch.

[Principal Maureen] Duffy said children sometimes hear "messages" in popular music and media that are "not always the most respectful or tolerant of others.

"The way they respond is not always appropriate," she said.

" 'Messages' in music" is a lame excuse (IMHO) used to shift blame to society as a whole. In this case, the school seems to have a lot to answer for.

Shouldn't there be an investigation and perhaps discipline of the school administration? What action is the DOE taking? Waiakea High School has had an anti-bullying program for a couple of years. Does the intermediate school have a program? If not, why not? If it does, why isn't it working?


Report: Hawaii Needs to Protect Students from Bullying (October 2007) (snippet):

Hawaii schools should create anti-bullying programs by 2010, give annual training for all employees about harassment and discrimination, and require students to attend assemblies to discuss the problem, the [Safe Schools Community Advisory] committee said.

The state public school system, which educates nearly 180,000 students, lacks uniform guidelines for administrators to report and respond to bullying on their campuses.

"There were probably a lot of unreported incidents happening at the schools," said committee member Jean Nakasato, an educational specialist with the Education Department's student support section.

The committee recommended that the Department of Education hire staff to investigate, respond and document cases of students being teased because of weight, looks, economic status, race religion, national origin and sexual orientation.

More than half of middle school students and 44 percent of high school students in the state reported being bullied at least once a year, according to the 2005 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.

In view of this report, the Department of Education could demonstrate its concern in part by saying how it will investigate the actions of the principal and conditions at Waiakea Intermediate School that led to both the situation and to the victim being punished.


Update: This received today (Thursday) via email from Supt. Pat Hamamoto:

Larry,

After an intensive round of investigation, we have concluded that both parties knowingly engaged in this incident.

Both were disciplined appropriately and there is follow up counseling and school wide programs in place to support the healing for the individuals as well as the school.

Hope this helps.



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