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Teachers avoided firings in 2010-11

Several instructors were suspended, including one for 20 days, data show

By Mary Vorsino

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No Hawaii public school teachers were fired for misconduct in the 2010-11 school year, but 10 received unpaid suspensions of varying lengths, according to details of disciplinary actions released by the state Department of Education.

In previous years as many as eight teachers have been terminated for misconduct. There was one teacher fired in the 2009-10 school year.

The DOE stressed the number of teachers disciplined for misconduct represents a tiny fraction of its 12,500-member teaching force.

Ronn Nozoe, DOE deputy superintendent, said he is confident the statistics reflect that student safety is the highest priority for schools.

He said the focus of DOE reviews of incidents involving teacher misconduct is a "continuum of improvement."

TEACHER DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS

2010-11: 10 teachers suspended

2009-10: 11 teacher suspended, 1 fired

2008-09: 21 teachers suspended, 3 fired

2007-08: 15 teachers suspended, 8 fired

2006-07: 8 teachers suspended, 5 fired

Source: State Department of Education

 

"It's looking at the whole scheme," he said. "People do stuff and make mistakes along the way. In most cases those (disciplinary) interventions are effective."

The longest suspension in the 2010-11 school year — the most recent data available — was 20 days for an Alia­manu Middle School teacher who made a racial slur against an administrator. The DOE said the teacher had previously been suspended in 2009, for gesturing inappropriately to another teacher.

The shortest suspensions were for one day.

A Moanalua Elementary teacher received a daylong suspension for using profanity while speaking with the principal, while a Niu Valley Middle teacher was suspended for a day for writing an essay for a student, according to the DOE.

Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the DOE data appear to show evidence of "inconsistency" in disciplinary actions.

He said the union has long been concerned that disciplinary actions varied from region to region.

"There's no set rule on the same penalty for certain things," he said. "In Leeward Oahu it could be a two-day suspension. On the Big Island it could be a week."

He said he wants to sit down with the department to discuss how to ensure disciplinary procedures are "fair and consistent."

But Nozoe said disciplinary procedures are consistent and that principals are trained to ensure misconduct is thoroughly investigated. Suspensions are handed down after consultation with human-resources professionals at each complex area. Terminations, meanwhile, must be approved by the superintendent of schools.

He said the information made public about suspensions might appear inconsistent at "face value." But he said there is sometimes material that cannot be released to protect employee privacy.

"Not all actions are the same, and they're not the same degree of seriousness," he said.

The teacher discipline information was released after a public-records request filed by the Star-Advertiser in February.

The DOE fulfilled the request in late November and responded to questions seeking additional detail this week.

Nozoe would not comment on why the request took so long to fulfill, but said the information is not easily accessible. Personnel at each complex must determine what information can be released, and must confer with complex administrators to ensure the information is accurate, he said.

The 10 teacher suspensions in the 2010-11 school year compare with 11 in 2009-10 and 21 in 2008-09.

Three teachers were suspended for 10 days in 2010-11.

One left her Lei­le­hua High classroom to "reportedly use the restroom a number of times," allowing her students to go without supervision; another directed inappropriate sexual comments to Molokai Middle students, including about a student's clothing; and the third, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary, took a string a child was playing with and "briefly tied the student to the chair," according to the DOE.

Other suspensions included five days for a Manoa Elementary teacher who allowed her students to run barefoot during physical education class; three days for a Pahoa High and Intermediate teacher for yelling at a vice principal and using profanity; three days for a Wai­luku Elementary teacher who used "excessive force" when grabbing a student by the back of the neck; and two days for a King Kekaulike teacher who shared private health information with another student, resulting in a "disruption of learning."

The DOE also released disciplinary information for executive officers, none of whom were suspended in 2010-11. Two, however, were terminated.

Waipahu High business manager Warren Harada was fired for stealing nearly $500,000 from the school over several years. He subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for theft and money laundering.

Also terminated in 2010-11 was a vice principal at Ilima Intermediate who was under investigation for "mismanaging school funds," according to the department. The DOE did not release more information.

Statistics on terminations and suspensions of executive officers in previous years were not immediately available.






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