(Editor’s note: At a four-hour local school board meeting last night, Thursday, May 8, 2014, several parents of children in fourth grade at Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science Public Charter School spoke out, alleging a teacher abused their children in the classroom. Parents expressed their frustration as to how the HAAS administration handled the dissemination of information and seemingly condoned the teacher’s alleged abuse. During the course of the testimony, it was revealed that there is a criminal abuse case pending against the teacher, the teacher has been on paid administrative leave, and the school recently entered a settlement agreement Witt the teacher for her to resign. That agreement included a confidentiality clause. Parents of at least one of the alleged victims have a restraining order against the teacher. They claimed in their testimony that the teacher violated the restraining order and HAAS administrators added insult to injury when the teacher attended a HAAS ho’olaule’a last week and sat with a couple administrators. The teacher apparently approached and hugged alleged victims, until a parent stopped her by loudly proclaiming she should not be interacting with the victims, that she is an (alleged) abuser. The local school board vowed to investigate the teacher’s ho’olaule’a attendance and determine if the settlement agreement and the restraining order one of the victims has against the teacher have been violated. Disclosure: I am a parent of a HAAS student and I help teach a yearbook class at the school. Due to my connection to the school, it would be impossible for me to objectively report this story. Listening to last night’s dialogue, I was overcome with emotion, thinking about the children involved and how many of their parents, 100 days after the allegations first surfaced, may not be aware of what allegedly occurred in their classroom. I am also concerned that some of the victims are not receiving counseling or therapy needed after this alleged abuse. The emphasis has been on the “due process,” and that process seems to overlook the needs of the children’s process. I am also concerned about the smear this puts on what I believe is a good school that already struggles with the stigma of being a charter school. As a reporter, though, I believe the story must be told. Following are the testimonies of two parents of alleged victims, both parents are employees of HAAS, Dan Biegler being the HAAS main campus director, and Debra Isabel being the educational assistant for the Workplace Readiness program. — Tiffany Edwards Hunt
January 29, 2014 is a day my family shall never forget. It is the day that my 9 year old son, a 4th grade student of HAAS, along with his classmate found the courage to speak out about the torturous behavior they were being subjected to by their teacher since the start of the school year. Imagine having your child report to you that he was hit from the back by his teacher with a forceful open hand slap to the back of his head in the area that he wears his hearing aids; unprovoked, and completely unprepared. As if that wasn’t bad enough, imagine hearing that the teacher of this class used duct tape over my child’s mouth as a means to shut him up because he needed help and used a whiny voice to say “I don’t get it”. It was also the day we realized that the recent changes we were witnessing in my child was a direct result of what he was experiencing at school. What once was my outgoing, independent, carefree child, was slowly turning in to my worried, needy, scared, angry child. Having had extremely nurturing and caring teachers in the past, he knew early on that this new teacher was nothing like the others. In my son’s words, she was “mean” and a “bully.”
This teacher, when concerns were brought to her attention by parents, responded harshly stating that we needed to trust her judgments and actions as a teacher because her possession of a Masters Degree in Education from UCLA somehow made her think that was her ticket to do as she pleased; to inflict physical harm and mentally humiliate and emotionally abuse the students that were assigned to her. It’s amazing that someone so educated believed that she was invincible. Does she not recognize that a person with a UCLA degree faces the same legal punishment as a homeless person living on the streets? This teacher was also the mentor and responsible for a Student Teacher studying to become a teacher as well an Aide assigned to that classroom. Imagine the role modeling that was taking place with this teacher as their guide. To this teacher, these may have been just students; mere puppets in training. To me, this was my child, the son that we waited 7 years for, the person that completed our family, the youngest grandchild of my parents, our prized possession. How dare she do that to MY child!
I reported this incident to the School Director immediately after finding out about it on January 29, 2014. As an educator myself, I recall having attended a workshop being presented by Child Welfare Services here at HAAS where we were trained as mandated reporters to treat incidents of violence seriously. Having reported to administration that my child and at least one other student was physically and mentally abused by their teacher, I expected this act of violence to be treated seriously. Instead of a call being placed to the Police, a call was placed to the Ohana Director to handle the situation. I knew then and there that my report was not being handled properly or taken seriously. I asked for the assistance of the Campus Safety & Security person who happens to be my relative, a person I know is professionally trained to handle situations like this. It was at that time that protocol began to take place. My child, with my permission was interviewed providing firsthand information of what he experienced. Following my child’s interview, I asked my son to hit me exactly like he had recently been hit. He refused at first saying that he was afraid he would hurt me or get in to trouble. When I insisted that he proceed, he apologized and hit me with such great force that my head jerked. Not only was I stunned, I was also in a bit of pain. This teacher, didn’t pat my son on the head, she hit him with the intent of hurting him! At that moment, I knew administration wasn’t going to do it, so I chose to file a police report and press criminal charges on this teacher myself. The school failed to follow protocol. They failed to protect my child! My child complained of headaches and pain in the area that he was hit. He was seen by his pediatrician the next morning and continues to have recurring headaches. My son expressed that he was afraid to return to school because the teacher was still there along with the student teacher and the aide assigned to the class.
The following day, with knowledge of these allegations, the school allowed the teacher to return to the classroom. The school failed to protect the rest of the children in that class! According to administration, that same day the school also told the Safety & Security person that he could no longer perform his job. They claimed it was a conflict because he was related to my child. Good and fine. Instead, they assigned the school counselor, a personal friend of the teacher, to continue the investigation. Was that not a conflict as well? A person with no education and experience to perform such a task. I know this for a fact because his first order of business was to call my home attempting to contact my husband. When my husband was able to speak to him, he told my husband that his purpose for calling was to get his “side of the story”, as if our stories differed.
A week had passed since reporting and there was no communication from the school. My husband and I requested a meeting with Admin. to get an update on the investigation. We were told that the teacher had been placed on leave with pay while they continued to investigate. This meant that she was not allowed on property during this time. However, the following day my husband happened to drive through the school parking lot and witnessed this teacher in plain view of everyone on campus talking in a carefree manner with the school counselor. We had been deceived. According to administration, the school counselor conducted a thorough investigation in to the facts of my child’s allegations by personally interviewing the students at Mana‘olana. Interesting enough, the school counselor never bothered to interview my son to complete his so-called “thorough“ investigation.
Through the police investigation, information was revealed to me that validated my decision to proceed with criminal charges. This teacher openly admitted to the School Director and other school personnel that she hit and flicked students and that she threw things at them. She also admitted to duct taping my son and claimed that it happened so long ago that she almost forgot about it but she recalled that it was so funny. This person, who may have been deserving of the title “teacher” for the past 2 ½ years, had now earned herself the title of “self-reported perpetrator”. As laymen, we would expect, an allegation of physical abuse accompanied by the admission of the perpetrator would constitute immediate punitive action; so why, at the time of her admission was the Police not contacted? Was that not sufficient evidence to act upon? Are the School Director, Ohana Director, and School Counselor exempt from mandated reporting? I know for a fact if it was a parent in this situation, police involvement would take place without hesitation. Instead, the school’s administration underhandedly dished off that responsibility to the Governing Board, a body of people with partial, one-sided information, and opinions and theories of their own. Is this how personnel disciplinary matters are systematically handled in Charter Schools? If so, I’d like to see a written policy where that is stated. If not, what has the Governing Board and HAAS Administration done in the 98 days that has passed to ensure that a policy for employee infractions are clearly written and in place should this repeat itself?
I was informed a month later, by a parent of 2 children in the same class that she too had filed a report with the school counselor about similar incidents involving her children and the perpetrator just a day after my child reported being hit. Nearly ¼ of the children in the class along with their parents had brought this to the school’s attention. Instead of investigating the reports by 4 different students individually, they strategically combined the reports. What did the school do? When asked, they claim to be restricted to provide us limited information. At one point, stating that they were in “negotiations” with the perpetrator and her union and was close to a “settlement.” What if the tables were turned, and MY child physically abused his teacher or a classmate? There is a clearly defined discipline policy in place called Chapter 19 whereby student consequences for various infractions are mutually understood, clearly written, lawfully supported, and most importantly, non-negotiable. So, the statements of the administration, the actions of the perpetrator and other HAAS employees closely tied to the perpetrator, has led me to the conclusion that the self-reported perpetrator has been allowed to walk away from an incriminating situation with the consequence of paid administrative leave, the ability to “negotiate” a “settlement offer”, and the possibility to continue to repeat these horrific acts elsewhere. What power and influence does the perpetrator have over the Governing Board and the school administration? That is the million dollar question!
In the current school year 2013-2014 brochure explaining HAAS Ohana Programs for Grades K-8 (hold up copy) the following statement appears “Our mission at HAAS is to provide every student an education where learning needs are met by implementing flexible and effective teaching strategies which target the full range of learning styles.” Unless you consider physical and emotion abuse a “flexible and effective teaching strategy”, I say this statement is FALSE! Perhaps that is why at an April 2nd Faculty Meeting, before the end of the current school year, the mission of HAAS suddenly changed and any mention of teaching strategies or learning styles conveniently disappeared. Who was in the leadership position to facilitate that happening at this particular Faculty Meeting? The hanai relative and mentor(as she refers to herself ) of the self-reported perpetrator! How’s that for a conflict of interest?! Immediately after the school’s newly adopted vision was created, the change was made to the school’s website. If the perpetrator has been terminated or removed from her position as a teacher, then why hasn’t THAT change also been made to the school’s website? WHY is the perpetrator being allowed to contact other Staff members about curriculum? WHY was the perpetrator allowed to attend the Ho’olaule’a where confirmed victims were present, and in the company of HAAS administration and her hanai relative just 6 days ago with absolutely NO reservation about being there full well knowing that a Temporary Restraining Order and a supposed “agreement“ with the school was in place and she was not supposed to be there? Is it because the school and the Governing Board influenced by people with a conflict of interest continue to keep this perpetrator on the school’s payroll? Isn‘t that information that we should have access to?
In April, at a Parent Meeting where myself and another reporting parent was mysteriously omitted an invitation to attend, the School Director stated that the “threat” would not be returning to the classroom and that we should “imua”, move forward. How is that possible when shortly after that when asked what type of counseling service was provided to students involved, the School Counselor stated that he was told by Administration not to discuss the matter with the students?
Because of the school personnel’s inability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation, their inability to enforce an agreement made with the perpetrator to refrain from being in the presence of victims and on the campus of HAAS sites, this has created a hostile work environment for me as an employee of HAAS. I do not understand that the stated vision of the Board of Education is : “Hawaii’s Public Schools are institutions of learning that parents want their children to attend and students want to attend. All schools, regardless of size, are safe, nurturing learning communities where members work together and all students achieve high academic standards and become contributing members of society” yet the Governing Board along with HAAS Administration has chosen to turn the other cheek with knowledge of an admission by an employee to committing illegal acts of violence that placed children in an unsafe, militant environment where the type of learning taking place was a lesson in “do as I say, or get hit, flicked, taped or things thrown at you”.
This is WRONG! As responsible adults we teach our children to report any instances of illegal or inappropriate behavior they have witnessed or experienced. Numerous children did exactly that. What did the school with the Board of Education and the Governing Board as their advisors do to live up to their vision statement? They sided with the perpetrator and left our children with no choice but to lose trust in the people that are paid to nurture and educate them!
Why, as a community are we not as vocal and passionate about equal accountability for Charter Schools as we are about equal funding for Charter Schools?
Evidently, there is an attempt to cover up what has happened and it’s apparent that the perpetrator is being afforded special privileges by the school and the Governing Board. So, one last question, what special privileges has the school and the Governing Board afforded the 4th grade students at Mana‘olana?