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Furlough protesters get fines, community service

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Nineteen people who staged a sit-in at the governor’s office in April to protest teacher furloughs were ordered to do 15 to 60 hours of community service or pay $75 fines yesterday for trespassing violations.

Four of the protesters were arrested during the sit-in and were charged with criminal trespass, a petty misdemeanor.

Going into court yesterday, they were facing 30 to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

But District Judge Russel Nagata agreed to lessen the charges against them, giving them violations as well. That means they will not have a criminal record.

The outcome is something of a symbolic close to the teacher furloughs debacle last school year, a black eye for the state that drew hundreds of irate parents to protest at the state Capitol week after week.

The teacher furloughs ended in May thanks to a deal that included $57 million from the hurricane relief fund and a $10 million, interest-free line of credit from local banks.

After the sentencing yesterday, the protesters said they were happy to have the ordeal behind them but were disappointed the violations weren’t thrown out.

"I think we should have gotten time served," said Claire Hanusz, who will do community service for two trespassing violations.

Hanusz said the protesters, all members of Save Our Schools, have already volunteered hundreds of hours to end the furloughs and improve Hawaii public schools.

But Deputy Prosecutor Chastity Imamura said during court proceedings that regardless of why the protesters were in the governor’s office, "They broke the law."

"They are being held accountable," she said.

Despite the threat of fines and community service, the mood in the courtroom yesterday was lighthearted, with those facing charges wearing lei and laughing.

William Unruh, a parent of two children in public school, addressed the judge for his single trespass violation, saying he "felt compelled to do what is right" when he joined other protesters in the governor’s office.

"I am not an activist, I am a parent," he said.

Unruh got a $75 fine.

The group conducted the sit-in over several days in hopes of convincing Gov. Linda Lingle to end furloughs that gave Hawaii the shortest instructional calendar in the nation last school year — 163 days instead of the normal 180 days.

One of the protesters who was arrested, Marguerite Higa, told the judge yesterday she "took no pleasure in sleeping in the governor’s office."

But she added she felt the sit-in was the only way to reach the governor.

Higa will perform 60 hours of community service.

Before the proceedings yesterday, nine of the protesters took a plea agreement, pleading no contest to trespassing violations and agreeing to do community service.

Ten pleaded no contest yesterday but wanted the judge to decide their sentencing.

A 20th protester was on the mainland, and her sentencing was rescheduled.

 

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