Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Racist remarks censured

A federal agency rules that Hilo
High failed to address disputes
and must make amends

HILO » The Hilo High School administration failed to deal adequately with a "racially hostile environment" in the football program in October 2003, a federal agency has determined.

Three incidents occurred in which school coaches used abusive language about several races, physically mishandled a student and threatened a parent, the Seattle-based Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education said in a Nov. 9 letter filed in Hilo District Court.

In an agreement between the agency and the state Department of Education, the department will undertake a series of measures, including writing letters of "regret" to football players and their parents and training school staff in dealing with racism. The department did not admit to wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Steven Dearing, a parent who raised racism accusations, will seek to have a court declare that school Principal Katherine Webster and Athletic Director Leroy Simms Jr. are "vexatious litigants," meaning they allegedly filed a frivolous request for a court restraining order against Dearing.

When Webster and Simms met with Dearing's attorney, Steven Strauss, they said they were dropping the temporary restraining order. Strauss said the two were still legally required to answer questions, but both refused.

The first instance of trouble was Oct. 5, 2003, federal official Gary Jackson wrote to Dearing.

An assistant coach identified by Jackson only as a native Hawaiian referred to a student football player as a "black Puerto Rican with a Portagee mouth," Jackson wrote.

The coach allegedly added, "I hate talking to that f..... black Puerto Rican."

Another student heard the comments and told the Puerto Rican youth, who confronted the coach on Oct. 10, 2003, Jackson wrote. The coach then grabbed the youth by his face mask and jersey and shouted in the youth's face.

On Oct. 31, 2003, a different football coach was angered when Dearing cheered a student in a "sprint" with the coach's nephew and the nephew lost.

The coach, identified by Jackson as a native Hawaiian, called Dearing a "f..... haole" and threatened to "kick his ass."

The coach made a loud cell phone call telling friends to come and "kill some haoles," Jackson said. A truckload of men arrived, but no confrontation resulted.

Jackson said federal investigators confirmed the allegations in numerous interviews with witnesses.

The coach in the Oct. 31 incident was removed and the other left the program, Jackson said.

The Star-Bulletin was not able to contact Webster or Simms.

On Sept. 21, Dearing told a secretary at a mainland office of the U.S. Department of Education, "Someone is going to pay dearly, maybe with their lives," Webster and Simms alleged in a request for a restraining order. Another restraining order was previously issued against Dearing, they said.

Strauss said Dearing's alleged statement was hearsay.

But Webster and Simms said an extra security guard was hired and Hilo High was put on "high-alert status."

Webster and Simms dropped their restraining order request when the state attorney general refused to provide an attorney.

Strauss said he would seek several thousand dollars in attorney fees from Webster and Simms.

State Department of Education
U.S. DoE Office of Civil Rights


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