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Bullying prompts retraining

Federal investigators stepped in after the repeated taunting of a Waianae High student

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 4:59 a.m. HST, Oct 18, 2010

Waianae High School teachers, administrators and staff will have to undergo training on properly responding to complaints of racial and sexual harassment following a case of extreme bullying.

The training is required under a voluntary agreement the state Department of Education reached with federal officials after the parents of a 17-year-old girl who was bullied relentlessly by peers say they couldn't get administrators at Waianae High to do anything to help their child.

Robert Hogan, of Waianae, said his daughter was subjected to racial and sexual harassment for months beginning in November and that Waianae High teachers and administrators did nothing despite repeated requests to intervene. Hogan also contacted the DOE's complaint line, but never got a response.

He then called the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which launched a formal investigation.

Hogan said the bullying got so bad that his daughter suffered nightmares, would vomit in the morning because of anxiety about going to school and asked to be withdrawn and seek a GED.

"She was horribly harassed," said Hogan.

The racial and sexual harassment against his daughter, who is white, included name-calling and threats of physical violence, he said.

Kathryn Matayoshi, state schools superintendent, said the training -- which staff at the school must complete before Jan. 31 -- is aimed at making sure harassment cases are dealt with "appropriately and promptly."

"We need to be really clear that they need to act quickly," she said. "At this point, we want to move forward and make sure nothing happens again."

Hogan said the bullying of his daughter appears to have eased since the voluntary agreement was reached in late September.

But, he added, it hasn't stopped.

Just this week, he said, a student at the school threw a cockroach at his daughter and called her a name.

Hogan said his daughter, a senior this year, has been at Waianae High since the family moved to Hawaii from Oregon in the summer of 2009.

The 17-year-old suffers from spastic dysplasia, which affects her ability to walk; and she has a learning disability, her father said.

Under the agreement, the school must:

» Train staff on the procedures they must follow -- and the prompt action they must take -- if they become aware of racial or sexual harassment;

» Reiterate the school's commitment to investigate complaints of racial and sexual harassment;

» Train staff on the procedure students and parents can use to bring formal and informal concerns of racial and sexual harassment to the attention of school officials;

» Send out notices to students and parents with information on the school's policies that prohibit racial and sexual harassment. The notices also must include information on whom to contact with complaints.

» Write a letter to the Hogan family telling them that harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and outline what administrators will do to ensure the 17-year-old is no longer harassed.

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