Bullying and harassment will be treated as among the most
serious offenses for high school students in Hawaii under a revised discipline code passed
by the Board of Education.
The board unanimously passed revisions to the misconduct code as well as a new civil rights complaint policy for students in public schools at its Thursday meeting. The new rules now go to the attorney general and on to Gov. David Ige for his review.
elevates bullying, cyberbullying and harassment to Class A offenses, the most serious of four levels of misconduct. But discipline will remain in the hands of principals since the code doesn’t tie consequences
“The discipline that is issued is not predetermined by the class of offense that is issued,” said Heidi Armstrong, assistant superintendent, Office of Student Support Services. “That is uniquely on a student-by-student, case-by-case basis.”
Principals are required to
consider five factors in meting out discipline: the intent of the offender; nature and severity of the offense; its impact on others, including whether it was committed by a group; the age of the offender; and whether it is a repeat offense.
The new code also specifies that school-level investigations will be completed within five days, and both parties will be notified as to whether allegations are substantiated. Action must be taken as soon as possible to preserve the safety of everyone involved, it says.
Armstrong stressed that the discipline code, known as Chapter 19, is only one part, the final part, of a comprehensive student support system in the schools.
The discipline code defines
bullying as “any written, verbal, graphic or physical act that hurts, harms, humiliates or intimidates a student, including those with protected class statuses, that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive
Cyberbullying involves acts of bullying that are electronically transmitted. “Protected class status” refers to factors such as race, sex, gender expression and disability. The amended code adds definitions of discrimination, gender expression, gender identity and sexual harassment, among other updates.
Board members also approved a new “Civil Rights Policy and Complaint Procedure for Student Complaints Against Adults.” Under the proposed policy, civil rights complaints may be filed by a student who experiences discrimination, harassment, bullying or retaliation, as well as by students who witness such behavior. Parents and employees who know about or witness the behavior may also file complaints.
The policy was prompted by a compliance review by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights that found Hawaii’s school system was not doing enough to deal with harassment of students on the
basis of race, color, national origin, sex or disability. The federal office faulted the school system specifically for lacking grievance procedures to ensure prompt
and equitable responses to student complaints and reports of harassment.
The state Department of Education reached a resolution agreement with the office in December 2017 to remedy the situation.
At Thursday’s meeting, board member Nolan Kawano asked how the department will keep track of whether
students feel they have been bullied, reported cases and how they are handled.
“One of the things that comes out of this is we get better data in terms of reported incidents,” Kawano said. “But we know they’re kids, and just like adults, we’re not always going to report things. Our starting point is that it’s fairly pervasive within the school system.”
Armstrong said students and teachers are surveyed about bullying so that data is captured and can be made available with the board. Cindy Covell, assistant superintendent of the Office of Talent Management, added that under the resolution agreement with the federal government, a civil rights committee was formed to keep tabs on the situation.
“They are going to look at data, look at compliance and training, and do some random sampling of discipline cases to see how they are handled at different schools,” Covell said, “and then make a report to the superintendent, at least annually, to do exactly what you said, step back and look at it and see how it is being implemented.”
In developing the revised policies, the Department of Education held 11 community engagement sessions in the spring of 2018 and 11 in the fall, and also administered surveys to community stakeholders and all DOE employees.
The board considered the proposed rules in October and a revised version in February, when it sent them out for public hearing. There was no oral testimony at the July 16 hearing, but several individuals and two organizations submitted written comments.
Vice Chairman Brian De Lima commended the department for its efforts to consider and respond to public input and for posting all materials online for public review.
The revised policies, public testimony and responses from the department are available online at boe.hawaii.gov as links in the meeting notice for the board’s Thursday general business meeting, under “Action Items.”
If the governor approves the new rules, the department expects to train staff on the changes in October and November. The rules would take effect Jan. 1.