Hawaii education officials propose stricter bullying policy

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Department of Education is proposing changes to its misconduct and discipline policy, creating a new offense of sexual harassment and increasing the offense classification of bullying.

The state Board of Education voted unanimously last week to send the proposed revisions out for public hearings.

Under the proposed changes, bullying, cyberbullying and harassment would be upgraded to the most serious offense classification — Class A offense — for intermediate and high school students. That category of prohibited conduct includes assault, fighting and weapons possession, according to the Department of Education. Bullying is currently a Class B offense for all students.

The rule changes also acknowledge for the first time sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in its protections against bullying and harassment.

The revisions aim to reflect the department’s commitment to providing a safe environment with equal access to public education for all students, department spokeswoman Nanea Kalani told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“It embraces the values of dignity and respect for one another by strictly prohibiting protected class discrimination, including bullying and harassment,” Kalani said.

The changes have been in the works for nearly a year and satisfy the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The federal office in 2011 began a routine compliance review of the state’s policies related to bullying and harassment based on race, sex and disability, resulting in a resolution agreement reached between the two agencies last year.

More than 7,000 Hawaii students committed Class A offenses last school year, according to department records. More than 6,000 students received suspensions, including nearly 3,000 for violent behavior. The state has about 180,000 students in its 256 public schools.

Disciplinary actions for Class A offenses are left to the discretion of school principals, but they must consider factors like the student’s age, intention and the severity of the offense.


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