Last night at Hawaii Public Charter School Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences (HAAS) a bombshell was dropped on parents, faculty and community members at their local school board meeting as allegations of physical and emotional abuse were told by parents of students attending the school.
Some members of the HAAS School board prepare for the meeting.
Many folks submitted written testimony that was not read at this meeting however a few people read testimony that they had previously prepared while others spoke from their heart about the problems that they were having with the administration at the school and some folks felt that there was a cover up going on and they wanted answers.
Before the meeting began
Puna resident and parent David Marquis started off the testimony and was so upset by the end of the night after hearing others testimony… he went out and protested the school today:
David Marquis shows his disgust with the school and the administration
Here are a few of the testimonies that were read via verbatim:
I am Dan Biegler, parent of a 4th grader at Mana’olana. I just wanted to give you some background/demographics of the 4th grade classroom at Mana’olana. This 4th grade started with 18 students 7 of which are children of employees at HAAS. 5 students have dropped out since the incidents and 2 of those 5 being children of HAAS employees.
The reason I am coming forward is for the children and parents who may go through this in the future and for those parents and children who are or were enrolled in the 4th grade at Mana’olana. This is why I asked those questions to the board in a previous email.
- Would you as parents want to know if there was any kind of abuse going on in your child’s classroom?
- Would you as parents want to know if your child has seen any kind of abuse in their classroom?
- Would you as a parent want to know if your child was questioned by a school counselor regarding abuse going on in the classroom?
If your answer is yes, then why haven’t the parents of 4th grade Mana’olana been granted these rights? We have not gotten any information regarding what is happening in the classroom other than letters brought home by students stating “There will be a long term sub till the end of the school year”.
Here is a rough timeline of the incidents at Mana’olana 4th grade:
- First Semester – The teacher was allowing 10 year old student to do their own lunch/recess supervision. This was causing major conflict between classmates.
- Teacher showed video of Central Africa current events to show kids how good they have it here. “Dead Africans being loaded into the truck.” Teachers response to my inquiries were “I known the students have seen worse” How dare she make judgements on what 10 year olds have or have not seen. Isn’t that what parents decide, not teachers.
- Teacher has children sit on hands to keep them to themselves or to not work ahead. If students took their hands out from underneath them the teacher would say “Keep your hands under you, or I will cut them off” This was repeated many times.
- The incidents listed below were reported on Wed. January 29th after school. Teacher duct taped another students mouth because he was “whining, I don’t get it” Teacher flicked students ears and hit students in the back of the head.
- Thursday Jan. 30th – Teacher was allowed to go back into the classroom and work an entire day.
- Friday Jan. 31 – Teacher on admin. Leave.
- Three letters go home to parents stating that there will be a long term sub. No other information shared or given to parents.
- April 9 215. Parent meeting announcement sent home with children. Parent meeting held. 6 parents were present out of 18. No new information was given. I am guessing the purpose of the meeting was to show how good the long term sub was going to be. Administration and counselor sit in the back of the room letting the sub speak almost the entire time. Principal standing in the open door repeating “I’m sorry I have to leave, I have a very important meeting to attend” Three times the sub tried to answer questions for the admin. Admin and counselor get into a dispute. I felt shame and embarrassment for being associated with HAAS. In the meeting, principal states that the long term sub and him had just been introduced to each other the week before at the school wide meeting on April 2nd.
- At this April 2nd meeting long term sub asks me, “Who should he talk to in regards to curriculum”? I was shocked to find out that the long term sub had just met the principal April 2nd and he didn’t know who to talk to in regards of 4th grade curriculum two months after the removal of the teacher.
- May 2nd – HAAS Ho’olaue’a. I see the fired Mana’olana teacher, sitting with HAAS Administrators and teachers enjoying the school function, making contact with her former students. What message does this send the kids, adults, teachers and community?
- May 5th – A teacher asks me “Why is the fired 4th grade teacher contacting me about curriculum and questionnaires? The teacher asks “If she is back working with HAAS, why doesn’t she take the middle school opening next year?”
So here I am asking about my child’s former teacher and why no information has still not been given to the 4th grade parents. I have stayed impartial and silent for too long. Now I come here for answers. How is it that a teacher gets fired and begins working with the long term sub that is replacing her, the administration that got rid of her, and coworkers that she is no longer coworkers with? Again, what message does this send to the children, parents, faculty and community? It’s ok to bully, threaten, abuse children as long they are hanai daughter to someone at school. As long as parents are kept in the dark on what goes on in the classroom.
This abusive teacher got a 3 month paid vacation, traveled to California, surfed at Pohoiki, while HAAS teachers, parents, children and the greater community has been splintered shamed, kept in the dark. If your not going to take care of your own, who will you take care of? 7 students of employees at HAAS in the 4th grade Mana’olana, 5 are left and they have all been greatly negatively affected by this teacher. They lost their fiends, their school, their trust in speaking out when wrong is being done. I am speaking for all of those families, fiends, colleagues, that are still battling the effects of this one teacher, the administration and now the board. I am also speaking for the silent majority now and in the future who will not speak out, will not be the whistleblower. I ask the board and the administration to protect ours and your children.
The next person to testify was Debra Isabel:
My name is Debra Isabel.
I am here to provide factual information as I have witnessed in a situation involving myself and my child that occurred here at Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science where I am uncomfortable saying that I am currently employed. I have remained silent and entrusted HAAS to conduct a fair investigation while I paid close attention to the details as it unfolded. It has been 98 days. I refuse to remain silent any longer.
People want to know details about what has happened in the 4th grade class at Mana’olana. I am at liberty to share our experience and YOU, the Governing Board and HAAS Administration have an obligation to share YOUR knowledge of the details of what took place with US. We are concerned parents, community members, tax paying citizens, and we deserve an explanation and have a right to hear the facts so that we may make an INFORMED decision if we want HAAS to be the school of choice for OUR children!
January 29, 2014 is a day my family shall never forget. It is the day that my 9 year old son, a 4th grade student of HAAS, along with his classmate found the courage to speak out about the torturous behavior they were being subjected to by their teacher since the start of the school year. Imagine having your child report to you that he was hit from the back by his teacher with a forceful open hand slap to the back of his head in the area that he wears his hearing aids; unprovoked, and completely unprepared.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, imagine hearing that the teacher of this class used duct tape over my child’s mouth as a means to shut him up because he needed help and used a whiny voice to say “I don’t get it”. It was also the day we realized that the recent changes we were witnessing in my child was a direct result of what he was experiencing at school. What once was my outgoing, independent, carefree child, was slowly turning in to my worried, needy, scared, angry child. Having had extremely nurturing and caring teachers in the past, he knew early on that this new teacher was nothing like the others. In my son’s words, she was “mean” and a “bully.”
This teacher, when concerns were brought to her attention by parents, responded harshly stating that we needed to trust her judgments and actions as a teacher because her possession of a Masters Degree in Education from UCLA somehow made her think that was her ticket to do as she pleased; to inflict physical harm and mentally humiliate and emotionally abuse the students that were assigned to her.
It’s amazing that someone so educated believed that she was invincible. Does she not recognize that a person with a UCLA degree faces the same legal punishment as a homeless person living on the streets? This teacher was also the mentor and responsible for a Student Teacher studying to become a teacher as well an Aide assigned to that classroom. Imagine the role modeling that was taking place with this teacher as their guide. To this teacher, these may have been just students; mere puppets in training. To me, this was my child, the son that we waited 7 years for, the person that completed our family, the youngest grandchild of my parents, our prized possession. How dare she do that to MY child!
I reported this incident to the School Director immediately after finding out about it on January 29, 2014. As an educator myself, I recall having attended a workshop being presented by Child Welfare Services here at HAAS where we were trained as mandated reporters to treat incidents of violence seriously. Having reported to administration that my child and at least one other student was physically and mentally abused by their teacher, I expected this act of violence to be treated seriously. Instead of a call being placed to the Police, a call was placed to the Ohana Director to handle the situation.
I knew then and there that my report was not being handled properly or taken seriously. I asked for the assistance of the Campus Safety & Security person who happens to be my relative, a person I know is professionally trained to handle situations like this. It was at that time that protocol began to take place. My child, with my permission was interviewed providing firsthand information of what he experienced. Following my child’s interview, I asked my son to hit me exactly like he had recently been hit. He refused at first saying that he was afraid he would hurt me or get in to trouble. When I insisted that he proceed, he apologized and hit me with such great force that my head jerked.
Not only was I stunned, I was also in a bit of pain. This teacher, didn’t pat my son on the head, she hit him with the intent of hurting him! At that moment, I knew administration wasn’t going to do it, so I chose to file a police report and press criminal charges on this teacher myself. The school failed to follow protocol. They failed to protect my child! My child complained of headaches and pain in the area that he was hit. He was seen by his pediatrician the next morning and continues to have recurring headaches. My son expressed that he was afraid to return to school because the teacher was still there along with the student teacher and the aide assigned to the class.
The following day, with knowledge of these allegations, the school allowed the teacher to return to the classroom. The school failed to protect the rest of the children in that class! According to administration, that same day the school also told the Safety & Security person that he could no longer perform his job. They claimed it was a conflict because he was related to my child. Good and fine. Instead, they assigned the school counselor, a personal friend of the teacher, to continue the investigation. Was that not a conflict as well? A person with no education and experience to perform such a task.
I know this for a fact because his first order of business was to call my home attempting to contact my husband. When my husband was able to speak to him, he told my husband that his purpose for calling was to get his “side of the story”, as if our stories differed.
A week had passed since reporting and there was no communication from the school. My husband and I requested a meeting with Admin. to get an update on the investigation. We were told that the teacher had been placed on leave with pay while they continued to investigate. This meant that she was not allowed on property during this time. However, the following day my husband happened to drive through the school parking lot and witnessed this teacher in plain view of everyone on campus talking in a carefree manner with the school counselor.
We had been deceived. According to administration, the school counselor conducted a thorough investigation in to the facts of my child’s allegations by personally interviewing the students at Mana‘olana. Interesting enough, the school counselor never bothered to interview my son to complete his so-called “thorough“ investigation.
Through the police investigation, information was revealed to me that validated my decision to proceed with criminal charges. This teacher openly admitted to the School Director and other school personnel that she hit and flicked students and that she threw things at them. She also admitted to duct taping my son and claimed that it happened so long ago that she almost forgot about it but she recalled that it was so funny. This person, who may have been deserving of the title “teacher” for the past 2 ½ years, had now earned herself the title of “self-reported perpetrator”.
As laymen, we would expect, an allegation of physical abuse accompanied by the admission of the perpetrator would constitute immediate punitive action; so why, at the time of her admission was the Police not contacted? Was that not sufficient evidence to act upon? Are the School Director, Ohana Director, and School Counselor exempt from mandated reporting? I know for a fact if it was a parent in this situation, police involvement would take place without hesitation.
Instead, the school’s administration underhandedly dished off that responsibility to the Governing Board, a body of people with partial, one-sided information, and opinions and theories of their own. Is this how personnel disciplinary matters are systematically handled in Charter Schools? If so, I’d like to see a written policy where that is stated. If not, what has the Governing Board and HAAS Administration done in the 98 days that has passed to ensure that a policy for employee infractions are clearly written and in place should this repeat itself?
I was informed a month later, by a parent of 2 children in the same class that she too had filed a report with the school counselor about similar incidents involving her children and the perpetrator just a day after my child reported being hit. Nearly ¼ of the children in the class along with their parents had brought this to the school’s attention. Instead of investigating the reports by 4 different students individually, they strategically combined the reports. What did the school do?
When asked, they claim to be restricted to provide us limited information. At one point, stating that they were in “negotiations” with the perpetrator and her union and was close to a “settlement.” What if the tables were turned, and MY child physically abused his teacher or a classmate? There is a clearly defined discipline policy in place called Chapter 19 whereby student consequences for various infractions are mutually understood, clearly written, lawfully supported, and most importantly, non-negotiable. So, the statements of the administration, the actions of the perpetrator and other HAAS employees closely tied to the perpetrator, has led me to the conclusion that the self-reported perpetrator has been allowed to walk away from an incriminating situation with the consequence of paid administrative leave, the ability to “negotiate” a “settlement offer”, and the possibility to continue to repeat these horrific acts elsewhere. What power and influence does the perpetrator have over the Governing Board and the school administration? That is the million dollar question!
In the current school year 2013-2014 brochure explaining HAAS Ohana Programs for Grades K-8 (hold up copy) the following statement appears “Our mission at HAAS is to provide every student an education where learning needs are met by implementing flexible and effective teaching strategies which target the full range of learning styles.” Unless you consider physical and emotion abuse a “flexible and effective teaching strategy”, I say this statement is FALSE! Perhaps that is why at an April 2nd Faculty Meeting, before the end of the current school year, the mission of HAAS suddenly changed and any mention of teaching strategies or learning styles conveniently disappeared.
Who was in the leadership position to facilitate that happening at this particular Faculty Meeting? The hanai relative and mentor(as she refers to herself ) of the self-reported perpetrator! How’s that for a conflict of interest?! Immediately after the school’s newly adopted vision was created, the change was made to the school’s website. If the perpetrator has been terminated or removed from her position as a teacher, then why hasn’t THAT change also been made to the school’s website? WHY is the perpetrator being allowed to contact other Staff members about curriculum? WHY was the perpetrator allowed to attend the Ho’olaule’a where confirmed victims were present, and in the company of HAAS administration and her hanai relative just 6 days ago with absolutely NO reservation about being there full well knowing that a Temporary Restraining Order and a supposed “agreement“ with the school was in place and she was not supposed to be there?
Is it because the school and the Governing Board influenced by people with a conflict of interest continue to keep this perpetrator on the school’s payroll? Isn‘t that information that we should have access to?
In April, at a Parent Meeting where myself and another reporting parent was mysteriously omitted an invitation to attend, the School Director stated that the “threat” would not be returning to the classroom and that we should “imua”, move forward. How is that possible when shortly after that when asked what type of counseling service was provided to students involved, the School Counselor stated that he was told by Administration not to discuss the matter with the students?
Because of the school personnel’s inability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation, their inability to enforce an agreement made with the perpetrator to refrain from being in the presence of victims and on the campus of HAAS sites, this has created a hostile work environment for me as an employee of HAAS. I do not understand that the stated vision of the Board of Education is : “Hawaii’s Public Schools are institutions of learning that parents want their children to attend and students want to attend. All schools, regardless of size, are safe, nurturing learning communities where members work together and all students achieve high academic standards and become contributing members of society” yet the Governing Board along with HAAS Administration has chosen to turn the other cheek with knowledge of an admission by an employee to committing illegal acts of violence that placed children in an unsafe, militant environment where the type of learning taking place was a lesson in “do as I say, or get hit, flicked, taped or things thrown at you”.
This is WRONG! As responsible adults we teach our children to report any instances of illegal or inappropriate behavior they have witnessed or experienced. Numerous children did exactly that. What did the school with the Board of Education and the Governing Board as their advisors do to live up to their vision statement? They sided with the perpetrator and left our children with no choice but to lose trust in the people that are paid to nurture and educate them!
Why, as a community are we not as vocal and passionate about equal accountability for Charter Schools as we are about equal funding for Charter Schools?
Evidently, there is an attempt to cover up what has happened and it’s apparent that the perpetrator is being afforded special privileges by the school and the Governing Board. So, one last question, what special privileges has the school and the Governing Board afforded the 4th grade students at Mana‘olana?
Debra K. Isabel
The next testimony that I was able to obtain was given by former long term Pahoa Teacher Winnie Enriquez:
My name is Winnie Enriquez
I am a retired elementary school teacher with 35 years of experience, 24 of those years were at Pahoa Elementary School. I enjoyed teaching and looked forward going to school all of those years because I realized the importance of my responsibility to those students who were in my classroom. Each of them were somebody’s child, and therefore, I treated each of them as my own, regardless of their academic level.
The students were my number 1 priority, and it was my responsibility to meet the needs of each individual, make school a happy and pleasant place for learning, become someone they could trust, and provide a safe environment. Isn’t this what is expected of each teacher?
I am here this evening to speak on behalf of my grandson who was physically and verbally abused by his teacher on several occasions, ONE,in whom we entrusted to enhance his learning ONE, who was trusted to treat each student equally, and ONE to provide a safe learning environment for the students.
Instead, he was humiliated in front of his classmates and other adults present in the classroom that did not take action on behalf of this child, my grandson. Why was nothing done with these individuals? Why were they still allowed to continue working in the classroom as if nothing happened? These acts committed by the teacher has contributed to my grandson’s negative perspective of school to the point where he HATES school. He HATES SCHOOL!!!!!!! No student should ever HATE school because of a teacher’s willingness to place a student in an unsafe and dangerous environment. As a grandmother, I have seen how my grandson’s demeanor towards school has changed. His level of self-confidence has decreased, he is afraid to return to school, and he has lost trust in educators that were supposed to care and educate him.
I had put my trust in the administration and the school board of the school to take proper action and act accordingly on behalf of students who were abused under the care of this teacher,but little has been done.
As an experienced educator with the Department of Education, I am assuming that this teacher was terminated and that her inappropriate behavior has been added to her personnel file. If this not the case, I STRONGLY request that this teacher be terminated IMMEDIATELY and that this is reported so she is NOT allowed to continue to abuse children and have them suffer emotionally and psychologically for who knows how long. I am witnessing the effects it is causing on my grandson, somebody’s child.
EVERY student should be treated equally in the classroom and be provided with the opportunity to learn in a safe environment. These rules were broken and my trust in this school and the school board has been lost.
HAAS stands for Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences. However, to me, HAAS now stands for Hawaii Academy Abuses Students!!!!!!!
Other parents spoke up about their kids being abused at the school as well. I wasn’t able to record the meeting because the board stated that no photography or videotaping the meeting was allowed.
I hope a thorough investigation is done by the Hawaii Department of Education and I hope that at some point I will be free to be able to release the teachers name that is allegedly involved in this.
For now… she is off the job without pay.
Filed under: Announcements, Big Island, Community, Education, Guest Commentator, Hawaii, Kids, Legal, Pahoa, Puna, Security | Tagged: Abuse in Public Schools, HAAS Teacher Shannon Smith, Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science, Shannon Smith, Teacher Shannon Smith | 8 Comments »