Tuesday, December 22, 1998

Teen’s mom
‘moved to tears’
by apology

The Maui student was
punched and suffered
racial slurs

By Gary T. Kubota


WAILUKU -- The mother of an African-American student who was punched and suffered racial slurs at Iao Intermediate School says she's pleased with state education officials' attempts to correct the problem.

Shelly Knox said yesterday that a Friday meeting with Maui Schools Superintendent Paul Brown and board member Michael Victorino was productive, and she said she was "moved to tears" by a public apology during a school assembly that day.

In light of the incidents, Victorino said he will discuss with the school board instituting racial tolerance training in public schools statewide. The board is set to meet Jan. 7 at Waiakea High School on the Big Island.

Victorino said a report will be presented to the board to describe what occurred and how the school system can improve its response to racism.

While a school may not be able to prevent students from making racial slurs, he said, it can institute programs that teach administrators, teachers and students how to respond to them. "I'm going to recommend some kind of sensitivity training through the school system," Victorino said. "I think we need a pro-active approach to this whole problem."

Knox said she was very pleased with the speech made by school principal Elizabeth Ayson on Friday to students and teachers, publicly apologizing for the pain and suffering caused by some students.

In her speech, Ayson said she felt shame and outrage because some of the students were "mean and uncaring," and called upon students to practice racial tolerance and to help the harassed victim.

"I was moved to tears," Knox said. "I cried with my son and sighed with relief because I had been under so much hurt, pain, pressure and stress."

The action by school officials followed a complaint filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Knox's son Philliep, 14, who enrolled in the school's eighth grade in mid-September.

Philliep takes special education classes.

Shelly Knox said her son was punched and shoved on separate occasions and subjected to racial slurs by students.

In one instance, a student yelled a racial slur at Knox as she walked on campus.

School officials confirmed the assaults and racial slurs and have disciplined a couple of students.

Knox said she filed the complaint because she felt not enough was being done to stop the racial harassment.

Brown said he assured Knox that all Iao School teachers and administrators will undergo racial tolerance training through the state Education Department's civil rights compliance office.

He said he also promised to offer district-wide training for all principals and vice principals in communication sensitivity and equity issues. Knox did not feel her complaint was being heard, Brown said, and he wanted the public to know her complaint was important.

"This is a big thing. This is the No. 1 priority for me right now," said Brown, noting he has heard similar complaints from parents of students in special education.

Knox said she has received countless telephone calls from people expressing empathy for her family.

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