Friday, January 15, 1999

Maui residents apologize
for racial harassment

By Gary Kubota


WAILUKU -- Iao Intermediate School bus driver Debra Jeremiah said she cried when she heard about the racial harassment being faced by special education student Philliep Knox.

Jeremiah said she watches him every morning and sees a hurt expression on his face as he looks back at his mother, Shelly, not wanting to go to school.

"My heart goes out to Shelly," said Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was among a number of residents who publicly apologized last night for the hurt inflicted upon Knox, and who condemned the actions of students at the school.

More than 80 people attended the gathering at the school cafetorium, organized by the school's Parents Teachers Students Association.

Knox, 14, an African American and an eighth grade student, has been punched and shoved on separate occasions and called racial slurs, a complaint filed with the federal Department of Education last month alleges.

Some residents said they felt the incidents had been "sensationalized" by the news media, that racial slurs occur all the time in schools and the workplace, and that students don't really mean what they say.

"It's no big deal," said William Carroll, a retired teacher.

Another resident said racism really didn't exist in Wailuku because everyone is a minority.

But Shelly Knox said if not for the publicity about her complaint, her son's problem would not have been heard and nothing would have been done.

Knox said she complained several times to the school administration but her son continued to be harassed.

Knox asked the audience to put themselves in her position -- of seeing her son coming home with a swollen face and asking her not to send him back to school.

Knox said she was thankful for Interim District School Superintendent Paul Brown's help in bringing about a change in the atmosphere at the school and an understanding of her son's problem.

Brown said racial slurs will not be tolerated at the school, and that he was shocked when he heard students tell a news reporter they wanted to be friends with Knox but were afraid of being criticized for it.

Brown said students need to learn to stand up for what they feel is right, despite peer pressure.

Brown said two students at Iao were suspended, but he needed the cooperation of others to enforce school policy.

"We need to know who is responsible to respond," Brown said.

Earl Sundance, a substitute teacher and an African American, said a racial slur is more than a word.

"It grows into institutional racism," Sundance said.

Sundance said students at Iao Intermediate and Baldwin High schools utter racial slurs often and receive less than appropriate punishment.

In one instance, he said, a student was given only a 20-minute time-out.

Sandy Ma, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is assisting Knox, said while there were some people in the audience living in the "dark ages," she feels many people last night helped in healing the hurt felt by the Knoxes.

"As a whole, the community understands this cannot be tolerated," Ma said.

Civil rights
advisory committee
created in public
school system

By Mary Adamski, Star-Bulletin


The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission has created an advisory committee on civil rights in the public school system.

The action came at the state board's monthly meeting Tuesday after a discussion about a Maui student's complaint to the U.S. Department of Education about racial slurs and physical attacks.

Commission Chairman Harry Yee named new member June Motokawa to head the committee to consider ways to promote tolerance and civil rights compliance in schools. Motokawa, a public school teacher and past president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, was just named to the commission by Gov. Ben Cayetano, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Commission Public Information Officer Al Lind said the commission discussed recent incidents, including the federal complaint filed on behalf of Iao Intermediate School student Philliep Knox.

Knox, 14, who is black, has been the target of racial slurs and has been punched and shoved by students, according to the complaint.

Lind said it is not within the state Civil Rights Commission's authority to investigate the incident.

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