Last night there was supposed to be a resolution to an executive session that was going on with Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS) school alleging teacher abuse made by a few parents of students that attended classes instructed by a teacher there named in the newspaper as Shannon Smith.
The meeting was originally scheduled for today at 5:00 at HAAS School in Pahoa. When parents and community members arrived they were met with a sign that basically told them the meeting was an executive session and that it had been moved to an undisclosed location per HSTA.
We then thought of places where this meeting might have been moved to and we drove to HAAS’s Virtual Campus located behind Black Rock Cafe and we saw cars that we recognized as board member cars and decided we would wait outside the meeting there to get the results that we were told we would have last night.
When we arrived HSTA Member Rae Yamanaka was waiting outside along with a few other HAAS teachers. I talked with the HSTA member (Ms. Yamanaka if I remember correctly) she told me she wasn’t aware of why she was called to the meeting.
About 20 of us were outside and then a bunch of Hawaii County Police Officers showed up.
I listened to what the Police officers were saying and one of them was talking to a supervisor and he said to his supervisor that nothing was going on just a bunch of folks standing outside waiting around.
One of the Police Officers asked me I if was “Damon Tucker”. I told him yes I was. He asked me what I was doing there… I told him that I wanted to hear the results of the executive session. He asked me why I was so interested in it. I told him I had a nephew that was allegedly abused by the teacher. The officer then asked me who my nephew was… I told the officer it was none of his business who my nephew was and quit talking to him.
Around 6:00 HSTA member Yamanaka drove by the group and informed us that the meeting was cancelled and she didn’t give us a reason.
The board members continued to stay inside the building and we were intent on waiting outside until we got answers from them. When they did finally leave the building the following unfolded including one of the Board Members telling us that we were stalkers:
So now we are still left looking for answers.
HAAS parent David Marquis sent me the following commentary on what he feels is going on:
My name is Dave Marquis and my wife and I have a child in the Mana’olana program. We have known this teacher since the beginning of this school year, August 2013, and more than once or twice, we thought she was a great teacher. She is confident, energetic, knowledgeable, very firm on students. She was working on teaching the students “respect” all the time. We wish we could listen to her side of the story from her mouth, in person. I really wish we could. It would’ve been so easy to hate her not knowing her in person. We drop off and pick up our child every day at Mana’olana, and get to see other students playing after school while they wait for their parents to pick them up and to see this teacher every day also.
For those who consider HAAS as a great school with many wonderful teachers, it must be hard to believe this numerous amount of abuse incidents as well as the principal Mr. Steve Hirakami and the Ohana director Ms. Debra Derbyshire covering up this whole thing. They did nothing about it this past 3+ months (since the end of January) and not only that, they wanted to pretend like nothing happened. We wanted to believe that this was a good school. However, they handled this matter very poorly. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do and trying to even cover up these incidents. They did nothing for these children after the incidents were reported. They did one thing though; they were trying to suppress the facts and to protect their reputations.
The kids this age exaggerate, we know it as parents. However, if you have a good relationship with your child, you probably can tell if your child is telling the truth or not, making it up or not, exaggerating just a bit or a lot. We feel so guilty about not paying more attention to what my child has said about his teacher in the past. There were many signs of the abuse from the beginning. Whoever is in doubt should’ve seen when she was yelling at the kids. When she yells, she does so like an old sister yelling at their younger siblings, far from how teacher should handle children. She stabbed the student’s hearts with all these mean words if not physically. Do not get fooled by her previously perceived good reputation. We are sure some people only know her wonderful side. In fact, we were the ones. We believed that she was a great teacher because we thought my child was exaggerating. How can you believe what he said, “This boy got duct taped on today!” You would be thinking “You gotta be kidding me! A teacher should be smart enough not to do that nowadays.” Sadly we learned that she has another side as well. Believe it or not, we wanted to believe so bad that she was a decent teacher after we learned that she got in trouble. We did not know what kind of trouble”s” she was in, but we thought there was some misunderstanding or something. We had high hopes for her as my child’s teacher until recently, but sadly it is shuttered completely after all of these things that have happened to our son and his classmates.
There are always 2 sides to the story; however, we strongly believe the student’s side of the story this time. They are 4th graders, smart enough not to mess around with this kind of stuff. They do not make this up. They have scars from their teacher who should be caring and loving. They can imagine what the consequences Ms. Smith will face after everything comes out in public. That is why it took so long for them to speak up. They were not telling parents everything they have experienced. They must have been in fear. I heard some students having nightmares because of what their teacher had done and without the help of the two assistant teachers who knew all about it but didn’t do anything.
My son was very afraid of her, he still is, from the very beginning. My husband and I used to think she was like a fire cracker, in a good way. We thought the students in this class will have lots of fun! She did not seem like a typical gentle kind type of teacher. She sounded like a very energetic, confident, fun, outgoing teacher who is never boring to be around. We moved from mainland just 2-3 weeks before this school year started. Everything was new to us. My son was probably somewhat nervous as he is the new student of the class where most students knew each other already.
We can personally attest to the effects that have changed my son forever. His innocence has changed in ways that shouldn’t have been for his age. He has trust issues that were never there before Shannon Smith crashed into our lives like a wrecking ball. He has had a hard time trusting us as parents for fear that we would get his hands or feet chopped off, screamed at, hit with books or have his ears flicked and it has taken quite a while to open up about what transgressed at the H.A.A.S Manao’lana. My son has also been dealing with unexplained anger issues that cropped up after he started the 4th grade class under Shannon Smith. He would be so full of uncontrolled rage that we would have to practically restrain him at times to explain how this or that behavior was unacceptable. He becomes very scared at the slightest correction from his parents. Sometimes even terrified we would say. He started to say “What the heck!” and “I don’t know” as an answer for question. He was afraid of expressing what he was feeling because he was afraid of Ms. Shannon Smith in class. He has to say “I don’t know” first and see the reaction, then only after he knows that he was safe enough to say what he was thinking, he could say, I think ____ or ____. He had to say something Miss Shannon Smith wanted to hear or he could possibly meet with her anger.
Shannon Smith came to H.A.A.S highly praised for her work in a tough Los Angeles, CA school, but I guess warning bells should have been tripped. I heard all these things in a matter of 1-2 weeks after school started. We thought my son was exaggerating. We didn’t believe what he said 100%. We thought whoever got duct-tape on was not listening or misbehaving or something, and thought she would not put a full force in that kind of discipline. She says “What the heck!”all the time and “What the hell!” occasionally. She yells at students or says “Shut Up!”, this is like everyday thing. She was even yelling at some 1st students that are the next door.
It seems to us that she decided that the Mana’olana students in 4th grade were out of control and need some “inner city” type discipline because that is what they received, maybe even third world discipline from what our son is telling us. Shannon Smith also has two teaching assistants that saw a lot of what transpired but failed to stop the abuse or report it. The HAAS counselor, Uncle Matt, who is very close friends with Ms. Shannon Smith apparently witnessed and or knew about abuse and did nothing to stop it.
These two Teaching Assistants and the school Counselor are still working at H.A.A.S and one aide is even still in the classroom at Manao’lana, who were present but didn’t lift a hand to stop Shannon Smith nor did they report the abuse as required by law.
She was so annoyed too frequently by these students for just giggling and laughing or even just a noise of somebody making constantly, like pushing the mechanical pencil or making noise on the desk with fingers or making noise on the floor with the shoes, etc. Our son always said “You are going to get flicked the ear by Miss Smith if you keep it up!” when his younger sister was making noise in the car one day. He did say the same thing every time his younger sisters did make some constant noises.
Shannon Smith threatened our son and the other classmates to chop off their hands and feet if they couldn’t hold them still. Shannon also threatened to break the hands of children if they couldn’t keep them to themselves or hold still. A few months ago our son had two day break down when he had been acting out and we were upset at his behavior. He sobbed and cried for many, many hours in belief that we would be chopping off his feet because of what he had done. We didn’t know about his mental torment that he endured at the hands of Shannon Smith and her teaching assistants. At first we found it a bit funny, but he didn’t. He was terrified to his core! Shannon Smith had engrained it into my son that bad kids get their hands and feet chopped off and he thought that was going to happen to him. How evil! It was a rough and shaky couple of days to calm him down.
She would scream threats at children. My son has also told me that Shannon Smith would often tell him and the other classroom students that they were idiots or stupid. Shannon Smith also would scream and yell at the 1st grade kids that are right next door on a often basis. She also used rough language with the students and used curse words on the children. We have had an ongoing issue keeping our son from telling other kids to “shut up” and he has learned to say “What the hell” quite often from Ms. Smith.
We were told one day that the desk and chairs had been removed from the classroom when our son returned home from school, which was our second clue that there was something wrong in the Manao’Lana classroom. This was done apparently because of one student’s actions from what we understand. We wonder if this student has moved to the mainland to get away?
I received this email that same day that was posted on Shannon’s Shutterfly web site from another parent:
“Is it true that our children have had their desks and chairs taken away and made to sit on the floor these past few days? If so, I am interested to hear the reason why.”
I posed an inquiry on Shannon Smith’s web forum about the removal of the desks, chairs, books and other classroom materials and why I was learning this from my son and not some form of official classroom change and this seemed to be weird to me. She exploded and sounded like she did the right thing and there was nothing for the parents to do other than trust her actions and skills. I was greeted with this response from Shannon Smith:
“Quite frankly, I did not have the time to call 17 families on Monday. It’s almost 4:00 PM, and I am nowhere near being able to leave here today as I prepare for tomorrow and next week.” I wonder how my child’s back felt like hunched over while trying to write? I know I wouldn’t be happy with this situation and I wanted to know more.
I responded to Shannon Smith with:
“I feel the same way and I need to know if my son is causing the trouble at school. I am not sure the removal of the desks is the right answer.”
This is the reply I received from her:
…. “appreciate your concerns as parents, but please trust my judgements and actions as a teacher. I do, in fact, have a master’s degree in Education, and am well versed in both working in a childs’ Zone of Proximal Development, and developmentally appropriate learning activities. I am happy to discuss these more in-depth with you, and even provide literature if you would like. Heck, read my thesis if you want. Moreover, if you have a concern, feel free to contact me personally via email and not on this message board.”
It was big news that Ms. Shannon Smith was removed from the class room and came as a surprise. It was the end of January when we learned from my son that Ms. Shannon Smith didn’t come to school and was not coming back for a while because of the “police” investigation.
Our conversation in the car on our way back home was something like
- How was your day?
- How was Miss Smith?
– Oh she wasn’t there. She is not going to be at school for a while.
- Why? What’s going on? (We had no clue!)
- I don’t know………… She got in trouble.
-Because (boy’s name) got duck taped on. I told you a long time ago.
-Yes I remember you said that. You weren’t joking??
-No I wasn’t.
-Did they do anything to you guys?
-I got interviewed today.
-Uncle Matt. (school counselor)
- What did he ask?
- I am not supposed to tell you. I was told not to say anything to anybody.
- WHAT! You can always tell us anything. They just didn’t want you to tell anybody you know. But you can always tell us about everything, the stuff that is happening at school.
After that day, we were forced to remain silent until the parent meeting in April. We hadn’t been told a word about what happened at the school, or what happen to the students. Shockingly, only about 10 parents (the parents of 9 kids at Mana’olana) came to the meeting to find out what the meeting was all about. The first hour of the meeting was about how incredible this new teacher was. Mr. Steve Hirakami kept saying “We need to Imua.” (meaning to move forward) Then one parent started speaking out. We cannot move on unless something has to be done about this particular incident. Then we started learning other things as well. The school counselor lost one paper that the parents reported to him, it was the list of things Ms.Smith did to them and the other students and of things they saw in the class.
I guess this is where we should have really kept an eye on the actions and judgments the teachers at Manao’lana. I feel that Shannon Smith was way out of line and there is no excuse for these torments my son and other classmates endured.
Three months after Shannon Smith was removed from the classroom Ms. Smith shows up at the May 2nd H.A.A.S. Hoolaulea hugging, sitting and chatting with Ms. Derbyshire as if she didn’t have a care in the world. How callous of Mr. Hirakami and Ms. Derbyshire, who knew that there was a temporary restraining order against Ms. Shannon Smith, to let her show up and re-intimidate the students of Manao’lana. Have they no common sense as educators and so called “protectors” of our children?
Where was the Administration in all of this?
Why has it taken 100+ days to get a smidgen of information?
Did they not monitor Shannon Smith, a first year teacher at Manao’lana?
Did Mr. Hirakami or Ms. Derbyshire call the police to stop the classroom abuse or to perform an investigation?
Did Mr. Hirakami or Ms. Derbyshire report these incidents to the Hawaii Department of Education?
Why are the teacher’s aides still teaching at H.A.A.S let alone still present in the classroom?
In my opinion this has been a cover up from the beginning. Not only does Shannon Smith need to be formally fired and her record reflection these events, the teacher’s aides and the school counselor are also complicit in the abuse and failed our children as well and they too need to me formally fired and their employment records marked with these events. Mr. Steve Hirakami and Ms. Deb Derbyshire need to resign and apologize to my son, my family and the other children in the 4th Grade Manao’lana class as they have fail them and the H.A.A.S Public charter school as a whole.
We believe Ms. Shannon Smith, Mr. Steve Hirakami and Ms. Derbyshire should never be allowed into positions of power again as they have shown a lack of human decency and moral fiber. They have truly failed our children and community.
Filed under: Announcements, Big Island, Community, Education, Hawaii, Kids, Legal, Pahoa, Puna, Rumors, Security, Unexplained Phenomenon Tagged: | Abuse in Classrooms, Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences, Steve Hirakami, Teacher Shannon Smith