Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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Anti-bullying measure awaits governor's OK

Being picked on can lead to suicide, one expert explains

By Lynn Nakagawa


Gov. Neil Abercrombie is expected to sign into a law a bill that requires the Board of Education to regulate compliance with Department of Education rules on bullying, cyberbullying or harassment.

House Bill 688 would establish a Safe Schools Act to prevent forms of bullying in Hawaii's public schools, applicable to kindergarten through 12th grade.

Besides publicizing the standards of conduct, schools would hold annual training sessions on how to promote respect and how to intervene when students are victims or perpetrators of bullying.

It would also require the collection, reporting and analysis of bullying data on an annual basis.

The bill sought to make cyberbullying a misdemeanor in certain cases but the criminalization was removed in the waning days of the past legislative session, which ended May 5. The Senate Judiciary Committee said in a report on the measure that anti-cyberbullying efforts are better enforced by school officials than law enforcement officers.

Antonia Alvarez, youth suicide and bullying prevention director of the Mental Health America of Hawaii, said officials have noted increased instances of "bullycide," suicide motivated by bullying and harassment.

"It implies there's a direct causal relationship between being bullied and wanting to die," Alvarez said Wednesday at a Mental Health America of Hawaii informational session at Central Union Church in Makiki.

The session's panel included Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, chairwoman of the Senate Human Services Committee; Sara Kaimipono Banks, coordinator of Creating Pono Schools; Nancy Kern of the Injury Prevention and Control Program of the state Department of Health; and Karen Umemoto of the Asian and Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center.

Panel members said students who are, or are perceived as, immigrants, poor or wealthy, or gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are at higher risk for being victims of bullying.

Chun Oakland said her office receives many complaints regarding bullying in Hawaii's schools. She said that certain ethnic groups are targeted for bullying, including Compact of Free Association Micronesian migrants and the children of immigrants.

"Pono," the Hawaiian word for goodness and morality, is stressed in teaching students to respect one another, Kaimipono Banks said.

She said the E Ola Pono Campaign of Creating Pono Schools awards monetary prizes for video or art that display pono in action.

"When you ask (the students), ‘Was that pono?' they know and that's what we want," Kaimipono Banks said.

Mental Health America of Hawaii provides anti-bullying training related to LGBT youth. Call 521-2437 or visit for more information.

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