School discrimination probe results in deal


POSTED: Friday, January 16, 2009

HILO » A federal civil rights investigation into complaints that the state Department of Education failed to respond properly to racial discrimination in Kona schools, including a case where a girl suffered a dislocated jaw, has ended in a settlement.

The investigation by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education was not a lawsuit and did not involve a money settlement. Instead, the state Department of Education agreed to carry out 26 corrective actions.

Tina Mohr, the woman who filed a complaint on behalf of her twin daughters, says they are no longer harassed, but other children continue to be victims.

Mohr said her daughter's head was repeatedly slammed against a concrete wall at Kealakehe Elementary School in 2004, and her jaw was dislocated the same day.

The girl was afraid to report the attack because school policy was to suspend anyone in a fight, without regard to who was the attacker and who was the victim.

The attacker was suspended for one day, but her mother took her shopping and bought her clothes that day, Mohr said. When Mohr called the mother, the woman said the attack took place because “;you don't know Jesus.”;

Mohr said she is Lutheran, her husband is Jewish, and once a week the girls attended Hebrew school after regular school.

The federal investigation, settled in December, does not mention specific cases. It reports many abuses and says Caucasians were the most frequent victims but that Asians were also singled out.

Mohr said her daughters are now in high school, but a teacher at the intermediate school told her Samoans are now a target. “;It's still happening,”; Mohr said.

Department of Education civil rights director Susan Kitsu said the Board of Education has passed a strong anti-discrimination policy. “;I go statewide and personally train principals”; and other staff members, she said.

A Kealakehe Intermediate survey on bullying in January 2005 found half of the students said they were bullied, and up to 90 percent knew about cases of bullying.