BOE expected to adopt changes to student misconduct rules

  • Brian De Lima

The state Board of Education today will consider adopting proposed amendments to Chapter 19 of the Hawaii Administrative Rules, which govern student misconduct and discipline.

The action comes nearly a year after amendments were first considered by the board.

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After receiving tentative approval from the board in October, the state Department of Education hosted 11 community engagement sessions throughout the state to get feedback on the proposed updates.

In February, the BOE voted to send the updated proposed rules to a public hearing, which was conducted July 16.

A DOE spokeswoman said revisions were made to the proposed amendments throughout the community engagement process, with the last round happening after the February meeting. No substantial revisions were made after that.

Originally, for example, proposed amendments called to make bullying/harassment and cyberbullying for intermediate and high school students a Class A offense — the most serious category of prohibited conduct that also includes assault, fighting and possession or use of dangerous weapons. Those are currently Class B offenses for all students.

However, those offenses will be considered Class A offenses for students in grades 9-12 only, after strong feedback from middle and intermediate school administrators, according to information provided by the DOE.

“Bullying in schools is a problem that affects student safety in the schools, and the changes classifies bullying as a Class A offense,” said BOE Vice Chairman Brian De Lima. “… I think all of our schools and administrators consider bullying a problem that has been addressed and continues to be addressed each and every day of every school year … .”

There was concern about classifying bullying as a Class A offense, but De Lima said it’s important to note there is no predetermined discipline based on the class of the offense.

Rather, administrators determine disciplinary actions based on the intention and age of the offender, whether they’re a repeat offender, and the nature, severity and impact of the offense.

Other revisions presented in February included separating the definitions of bullying and harassment, rather than having a combined definition; defining protected classes as including race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, national origin, ancestry, disability, physical appearance and characteristics, and socioeconomic status; and creating a new section that outlines the procedures for handling protected class complaints and investigations of discrimination, harassment, bullying and/or retaliation.

State Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in an Aug. 15 memo that no oral testimony was presented during the July public hearing, but written testimony was submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Hawaii chapter, the Special Education Advisory Council and four community advocates.

“HIDOE considered all testimony provided at the public hearing and recommends that no changes be made to the proposed rules and that the board approve the proposed rules for submission to the governor for final approval,” Kishimoto wrote.

De Lima said the board will decided today whether to make further changes or adopt the proposal as presented.

Based on input during the public hearing, he said he didn’t anticipate additional changes.

The policy is being updated in part to satisfy requirements of a resolution agreement reached in December 2017 between the state DOE and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, after OCR initiated a compliance review of state policies related to bullying and harassment based on race, gender and disability in 2011. There was no complaint that initiated the review.

According to information provided in support of the agenda item, the amendments will next get a final sign-off by the state attorney general and go before Gov. David Ige for review and consideration.

The department also is proposing to repeal Hawaii Administrative Rules Chapter 41 and replace it with a new section titled “Chapter 89 Civil Rights Policy and Complaint Procedures for Student(s) Complaints against Adult(s).”

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The board also is scheduled to take action on that today.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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