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StarBulletin.com

Community fights Friday furloughs


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The state's decision to save money by shutting down Hawaii's public schools for 17 Fridays this year has angered parents so much that they are planning to march on the Capitol next week, and some are considering lawsuits.

“;When I first heard about the furloughs, we were all shocked and furious because this is going to have the largest impact on the students, and they, of course, are defenseless,”; said Debbie Schatz, who has a sixth-grader at Aikahi Elementary.

“;So parents and community members, an amazing amount of them, are coming forward and voicing their opinions.”;

A new organization, Hawaii Education Matters, is planning a march at the Capitol from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 23, the first scheduled “;Furlough Friday”; for public schools. Its Web site is hosting a petition drive to “;Stop Furlough Fridays.”; The petition is addressed to the governor, Legislature, Department of Education, school board and teachers union.

“;None of us are political activists,”; said Jennifer Moy, volunteer coordinator for Hawaii Education Matters, formed three weeks ago in response to the furloughs. “;We're pretty new at this. We just want a better education for our kids. Our goals are to have the class time restored and to give parents a voice in the debate.”;

               

     

 

ON THE MOVE

        Hawaii Education Matters March:
       

» When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 23

       

» Where: State Capitol, 415 S. Beretania St.

       

» More info: www.hawaiieducationmatters.org

       

Some are considering legal action. Attorney Eric Seitz sent a letter to Attorney General Mark Bennett dated last Thursday saying his office had received “;an overwhelming number of requests for representation”; from individuals and organizations seeking to block the furloughs. Parents of special-needs students as well as regular-education students are concerned about disrupting their education, he wrote.

Seitz, who is on the mainland, is scheduled to meet Friday with Bennett and Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, according Seitz's office manager. Seitz wrote in the letter that he could file a motion in court as early as Monday, if agreement is not reached before then to postpone the most imminent furlough days.

Hamamoto said yesterday that “;it's highly unlikely”; that Furlough Fridays can be stopped at this point, since the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the DOE and Gov. Linda Lingle have all approved the deal. The deal calls for 17 furlough days this school year and 17 next year, representing nearly 10 percent of the 180-day school year.

Attorney David Rosen, a public school parent, said he is also contemplating a lawsuit.

“;The state has an obligation to provide a reasonable public school education under the state Constitution,”; he said. “;I think parents are very upset. I've talked to, heard from many of them who feel that this is simply the last straw. For me, this is not just an issue about 17 less days. This is about neglecting and marginalizing the public school system in Hawaii for just too long.”;

Rosen noted that federal law protects special-needs students, but “;there's no federal law protecting the regular students in the state of Hawaii.”;

“;In Hawaii we have very little law on what goes on in the schools,”; he said. “;Virtually everything that goes on in the schools is determined by what's in the HSTA contract.”;

Moy, whose 5-year-old son is in kindergarten at a public school, said, “;The money the furloughs will save is not worth the high human cost of this disaster. We realize it is an incredibly difficult situation, but we feel that if there were compromises on all sides, they can find a better solution than the shortest school year in the nation.”;

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Click here to see Eric Seitz's letter to Attorney General Mark Bennett.