A class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of students of the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind, alleging that school and even Department of Education employees knew there was a group of students who “bullied, terrorized, assaulted, robbed, sodomized, raped” younger students at the school and looked the other way.
As many as 35 students may have been sexually abused by a group calling itself “the Ringleaders,” according to the lawsuit, which lists anonymously John Doe, a deaf former student at the school, and his mother, Jane Doe, as the named plaintiffs.
Since the beginning of the year, Honolulu police have arrested three juvenile boys who are former or current students of the school on sex assault charges. Both police and the Department of Education, which oversees the school, have active investigations. Police said this week the charges they are aware of go back to incidents that allegedly took place in 2006 and that HPD learned about them earlier this year.
The lawsuit filed in state Circuit Court this morning by attorney Michael Green alleges that a group calling itself the Ringleaders were boarding students at the school and were responsible for the sexual assaults of as many as 35 students.
Named in the lawsuit besides the state Department of Education are longtime principal Sydney Dickerson and a man identified as a counselor for the school, Scott O’Neal. Dickerson has been placed on leave by the DOE.
DOE officials said today that O’Neal has never been employed as a counselor at the school but did not immediately say if he had any other involvement with the school.
Officials with both the DOE and Attorney General’s Office said the case is under investigation and that they had no further comment.
The lawsuit said the Ringleaders admitted “at various times” as far back as 2007 to O’Neal and other school officials and counselors that they had assaulted or otherwise harmed other students.
Among the allegations:
>> In 2007, Dickerson was informed that boys were being assaulted and raped by other boys at the school on school grounds and elsewhere.
>> In April 2009, a counselor at the school was told of a deaf student that had been intimidated into sexual acts with five boys, believed to be Ringleaders.
>> At one point, a young girl on a school bus was coerced into a sexual act with a member of the Ringleaders, who filmed the incident and showed the video to other students.
“The errors and omissions of the state created and resulted in a hostile learning environment for John Doe, a person with a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the lawsuit said.
The school enrolls about 70 students on a five-acre campus in Kapahulu that includes dormitory rooms for some students.