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BOE wants time limits in inquiries of alleged misconduct

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The number of public school employees on paid leave pending investigation of alleged misconduct has dropped over the past six months to 43 from 63, but the state Board of Education says the investigations are still taking too long.

The board asked the Department of Education this week to come up with a policy to impose deadlines for completing department-directed leave investigations. Officials said “several” pending investigations have stretched on for a year or more.


Forty-three Department of Education employees are on paid leave while being investigated for the following allegations of misconduct:

Inappropriate conduct toward students: 22

Hostile work environment: 5

Workplace violence: 5

Sexual harassment: 4

Inappropriate sexual relations with student: 3

Misuse of school funds: 1

Possession/use of drugs/alcohol: 1

Retaliation: 1

Suitability analysis: 1

Source: Department of Education

“I’m fairly strong in the opinion that we do need some dates that are reasonable,” BOE member Don Horner said at the board’s Tuesday meeting. “It sends a message to our people that we care. It also sends the message — we’re talking about substantial economic investment. Worst-case scenario, it’s either the person is innocent and we’ve soiled his or her reputation and we need to correct that, or the person is guilty and they’re getting free pay for months.”

BOE Vice Chairman Brian De Lima, who chairs the board’s Human Resources Committee, said he wants to review a draft policy with proposed deadlines at the committee’s September meeting.

“We’re paying people who are being accused of wrongdoing and we need to have a timely conclusion one way or the other,” De Lima said. “I’m anxious to get a department proposal in terms of setting some deadlines, and I hope we can get a draft before our next HR (Committee) meeting. If not, we will prepare a proposal.”

The number of employees on paid leave pending investigation has dropped from a high of 120 in January 2013. Of the 43 employees currently placed on leave, 28 are teachers and three are educational officers, which would include principals and vice principals. The rest are other school staff.

More than half of the pending cases stem from inappropriate conduct toward students. Other allegations include inappropriate sexual relations with students, hostile work environment, sexual harassment and workplace violence.

“When you consider that we have 22,000 permanent employees (and 20,000 part-time employees), 43 out of 22,000 is not a lot,” said Barbara Krieg, assistant superintendent for human resources. “Even fewer would be better, but it is reassuring to know that we are making progress. And by and large we have excellent, dedicated, good employees. The instances where we have employees who are out on leave and being investigated are really the anomaly and not the norm.”

The DOE has said cases can take a long time because the department is short on investigators, some cases are complex, and due-process rights for unionized employees can prolong investigations. Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has authorized the hiring of two more investigators to add to the three within the Office of Human Resources.

“We remain committed to continuing to be as efficient and prompt as we can on every single investigation and to bring every single case to close as soon as possible,” Krieg said.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association had testified in December that its members get tied up in lengthy investigations for alleged misconduct that 7 out of 10 times result in clearance of wrongdoing.

Krieg on Tuesday disputed the 70 percent figure. She said based on a review of data for the 2013-14 school year, 85 percent of cases resulted in some form of discipline.

While most of the investigations happen out of public view, the BOE has turned its eye toward the department’s handling of investigations as details of individual cases surfaced in media reports late last year. BOE members have been critical of the department for lacking clear policies on what types of allegations warrant placing an employee on leave, and for the length of time it takes to complete investigations.

Krieg said the department is finalizing guidelines, which are already in use, that lay out what circumstances warrant an investigation and when it’s appropriate to put an employee on leave. She emphasized those are two separate decisions.

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