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Jury: Hawaii school failed to protect girl from rape

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    Mariana Harris, 19, center left, stands with her mother, Angelica Kauhako, center right, as their lawyers Michael Green, left, and Peter Hsieh, right speak to reporters at a news conference outside federal court in Honolulu, Monday.

Hawaii’s public school system failed to protect a special education student who says she was raped by a classmate, a jury determined Monday.

But the verdict also says the state Department of Education and a special education teacher at Waianae High School didn’t act recklessly or intentionally.

A jury of five men and three women deliberated over two days in a trial for a lawsuit filed by Mariana Harris’ mother saying the then-freshman girl— with the intellectual ability of a second-grader— was raped by a then-senior boy from her special education class— with a low IQ — in a unisex bathroom in 2013.

The Associated Press doesn’t usually identify sex assault victims unless they choose to go public. Harris, now 19, and her mother, Angelica Kauhako, told the AP after the verdict was announced that they hope by coming forward, they can help others.

“I’m happy it’s over,” Harris said. “I just pray that people understand it’s not OK for people to get hurt that way.”

Her attorneys were mostly pleased with the verdict. “It sends a clear, resounding message to the DOE that they have to pay closer attention to the special needs children and take care of them,” said one of the plaintiff attorneys, Peter Hsieh.

Deputy state Attorney General Marie Gavigan, defending the department and the teacher, said she’s disappointed by the verdict.

The jury awarded about $810,000 in damages to Harris and Kauhako. Their lawyers had asked for $3.2 million.

Jurors placed 95 percent of the fault to the department and 5 percent to the teacher, Kristin Lindquist. She attended the two-weeklong trial but was back at school Monday, Gavigan said. Plaintiffs didn’t prove that Lindquist was “motivated by malice” according to the verdict.

Lindquist testified that when the boy returned from the bathroom, he looked “sick,” so she asked him what happened. He told her he touched Harris and asked if he would be suspended, she said. She testified that she asked him if he touched her in her private areas and he said yes. It was a mistake to ask such “pointed” questions, Lindquist said, adding that she made the same mistake while questioning the girl about what happened. The girl told the teacher she was raped in the bathroom.

The teacher took immediate action and reported the incident to the dean of students, who called the police and had the boy removed from school, Gavigan told the jury.

A doctor who examined Harris the next day testified that she had tears consistent with a sexual assault. The defense argued those tears could have been caused by something else, such as her scratching herself.

Surveillance footage taken near the bathroom doesn’t show that the students were inside at the same time, Gavigan said.

The jury determined plaintiffs proved that Harris was subjected to sexual harassment that was so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive,” that she was deprived of educational opportunities under a federal education law that protects against gender discrimination.

The judge could award additional damages under that law, Hsieh said.

After Kauhako filed the lawsuit, the education department sued the boy, now 21, saying that if the state is found liable, he should be responsible. The jury determined that he’s not responsible to the defendants.

He was never arrested or charged in the incident.

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  • Yes the school failed the girl. They should have an armed guard in the bathroom who has uni-gender. Or at least send an uninsex person with every “special”student who needs to go. Better yet to require their parents to attend their student bathroom sessions. $800000 burned! It is a crazy world.

  • DOE approved unisex bathroom is coming to all public schools for students except for the teachers. Only the teachers will have separate bathrooms for men and women. The teachers and school staffs are the privileged ones. Same-sex bathroom, locker rooms, showers, etc only applies to the students, not the teachers. Do you see the discrepancies. Life is really unfair!

  • It didn’t take a ouija board to guess that the first two comments on here would focus on the “unisex bathroom”. Guess what, it could’ve just as easily been a regular bathroom, an empty classroom or office, even a broom closet. Where’s the condemnation of the rapist? The victim wasn’t violated by the room, but by a rampant heterosexual.

    • Problem is, the rape didn’t happen in any of the other places you mentioned. It supposedly took place in the one location at the school where it was conceivable by a jury that both sexes could have been together at the same time with an expectation of total privacy: a unisex bathroom.

      As for condemning the rapist, as it was previously reported in the S-A, the boy himself is of diminished capacity, perhaps not nearly to the extent the girl is, but still not like what you’d expect of a boy his age.

      I for one am curious to know what the compelling evidence was that persuaded the jury to discount the DOE’s claim that a security video made it illogical to believe a rape, or any other physical contact between the boy and girl, could have occurred at all.

      • DeltaDag, comments like yours is impressive to read! Thanks for a point of view that parallels mine. The only differences, this old buck doesn’t have the talent to write like you! Have a great day!

    • agree..The issue is not unisex bathrooms but DOE incompetence and negligence. Special Education is really lagging in the DOE. We need to bring in better-trained teachers from the mainland.

    • It didn’t take a ouija board to guess that the first response from an LGBT supporter would be that it was not the (unisex) bathroom’s fault, it was the “rampant” heterosexual.

      The argument that the unisex bathroom played no role because it could have occurred somewhere else is pretty shady logic.
      Suppose a child drowns in a public swimming pool that fails to provide a lifeguard. Would you argue that the safety failure at the pool was not the problem because the child could have just as easily drowned at the beach?

      This is the natural result of a delusional world in which real physical genders are pretended not to exist, and replaced by fabricated “gender” categories that do not actually exist in the real world.

  • The incompetent Dept. of Education fails it’s students again. The tax payer must bear the financial burden for DOE’s failure. Individuals in the DOE should be held
    financially responsible for their failure so protect our children in the schools. The unisex bathrooms will cause more problems in the future. It’s just the DOE trying to be cute
    rather than protect children

  • Just mind boggling that the boy wasn’t even charged with a crime. It’s like the school itself raped that girl instead of the boy. If they had such a strong case to win a civil suit, then they should have had enough evidence to convict the perpetrator of some kind of crime. Now he probably thinks he can get away with this kind of stuff and probably will be back in action soon and probably end up costing another lawsuit that the taxpayers have to pick up the tab for.

  • “Surveillance footage taken near the bathroom doesn’t show that the students were inside at the same time” — so, if they weren’t inside at the same time, why the high damages award? Basically, in Hawaii, if something bad happens to you (or if you CLAIM something bad happened even though the surveillance footage shows it probably did not happen), the State automatically pays like it’s an insurance company. And people wonder why our taxes are so high. I feel sorry for the girl, if something did happen or even if her parents are making her believe that something happened at school (as opposed someplace else), but out politicians have got to start limiting the State’s liability.

    • Bet the video was tampered with or edit. It’s a jury decision so they saw something that refuted DOE. Here’s the thing. Public schools do not have Unisex bathrooms in general. These unisex bathrooms are usually in a classroom, especially a SPED room. So the teacher/aides should know what is going on. Somebody got lax.

  • This is a prime example of a case as to why our legislature opened the statute of limitations period for private schools and institutions and not the public schools for law suits for sexual abuse. It is OK to sue a private school but not OK to sue a public school – how unfair. If the public schools were treated the same as the private schools, the State of Hawaii would be in court just as much if not more than the private schools.

  • Students like these two should never have been in a regular school community. Special education schools where mentally disabled students can be properly supervised would be a better solution. Low capacity students should not burden the regular school community.
    Progressives who push for this environment are never around when their “solutions” fail.

    • I have to agree with MililaniGal. Why would you put a student “with the intellectual ability of a second grader” in a high school environment??? Regular schools, administrators and teachers cannot be burdened like this. The students also need to have concentrated specialized curriculum and care.

      • There exists the notion that an individual only gets as good as the best person he or she is exposed to. In athletics, for example, there’s a tendency for a group of long-distance runners to train only hard enough to keep pace with the best runner – but not any more. However, by inserting even better runners into the group, the entire group might see its collective performance increase as each individual is coaxed to push himself ever harder.

        In a similar way in academics, less able students are felt to gain some benefit from being taught alongside their average or above average classmates. It’s likewise felt that such exposure will develop cooperative skills that can prepare all students for life in the real working world. And if a little compassion for their less gifted classmates is retained by the best students, so much the better.

        That said, the danger with good ideas is that things usually work as intended up to a point, and if taken to extremes, more harm than good can result.

  • Maybe I’m missing something, but what did the teacher do wrong again? She talked to both, made the report and the police came. What else should she have done?

    • The teacher may have made the mistake of asking leading questions to both the boy and girl that suggested a particular desired answer. Instead of simply asking, “Tell me exactly what happened to you and the other student in the bathroom?” she may have framed the questions in a way that the students could answer by simple “Yesses” and “Nos.” If leading questions were asked from the get-go, then it can be persuasively argued that the teacher tainted any future investigation that depended on interviewing the students.

      Teachers aren’t lawyers and it’s doubtful she had specific training on how to conduct herself under a stressful criminal assault-type situation involving students in her charge.

      Should she have been better prepared? That’s really up to the public to decide.

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