Thursday, February 11, 1999

Student harassment
complaints may go to
civil rights commission

By Crystal Kua


Public school students subjected to harassment on campus due to their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, ancestry or discriminatory practices would be able to take their complaints to a new venue under a Senate bill being considered.

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission would be able follow up on such complaints, which it is not able to do now.

"Under present law, the HCRC does not exercise jurisdiction overcomplaints of discriminatory harassment of students in publicly-funded schools," commission Executive Director William Hoshijo said. "The bill gives students the same protections against discriminatory harassment as (school) employees."

This legislation, which applies to both Department of Education and university campuses, comes on the heels of several cases of racial harassment and insensitivity reported in Department of Education schools.

Recently, an African-American eighth-grader on Maui filed a racial harassment complaint with the federal civil rights office, alleging he was subjected to racial slurs and assaults at his intermediate school.

Before that, lawsuits were filed in the cases of two Oahu high school yearbooks which published racially offensive materials.

The Board of Education last week sent to public hearing proposed rule changes for new language to the schools discipline code that would prohibit discriminatory harassment.

"In recent incidents on Maui with a young African American student, he could not approach the HCRC for assistance," said Carolyn Golojuch, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "With the passage of this bill, the students will know that society cares about their safety and civil rights."

The state attorney general's office spoke out against the bill, saying students could conceivably take their complaint directly to the commission without ever going to the department for help and the state could face more liability as a result.

But civil rights attorney Elizabeth Fujiwara said litigation is not normally the goal in these circumstances.

"Most people don't want to bring a lawsuit," she said. "They just don't want to be harassed."

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