Teachers want action at ‘unsafe’ Pahoa school after spate of violence

Last month, Always Investigating revealed just how bad the school violence problem is at some public school campuses, including as young as middle school.

Now we’ve learned of more trouble at a rural neighbor island school that already had some of the highest numbers of incidents per capita.

An eruption of multiple large fights sent Pahoa High and Intermediate School into lockdowns the past couple of days and required police response. Adults trying to intervene are being assaulted.

Always Investigating asked the Department of Education what it’s doing about it.

According to data Always Investigating reported previously, the Pahoa campus is among the top schools for number of violent incidents last school year per capita at nearly 100 out of a student population of about 700. About a quarter of the reports – 22 of them – were Class A, the most serious offenses.

Sources there say those reported are only a fraction of what’s taking place.

Teachers say the school has erupted with incidents over the past couple of days. Always Investigating reviewed video, which we will not air, showing boys and girls throwing vicious punches, and adults struggling to gain control of them.

“Yesterday, one of our security officers got jumped on in the midst of a fight and had several kids pounding and beating on him. He got pummeled in the back of the head,” a teacher told Always Investigating. “We lost one of our security guards from a fight earlier this year and he hasn’t come back. We’ve had teachers get punched in the face. It’s not a safe place to work, and the students overwhelmingly don’t feel safe.”

The DOE says racial conflict is the source of the fighting.

“To have two big fights where police are called in the first semester, that’s not acceptable,” said DOE Kau-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Farias. “We’ll definitely revisit what we do culturally with kids and how we alter their time outside of structured classroom activity.”

Hawaii County police say they have initiated a third-degree assault investigation and maintained a presence at the school Wednesday and Thursday. They planned to return Friday, the DOE said.

Police say a 15-year-old boy was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of assault, and four additional students were arrested Thursday — two boys, ages 15 and 16, and two girls, ages 12 and 13 — on suspicion of disorderly conduct. All five were released to their parents.

The DOE says those students will be suspended at least until the end of the semester.

Officials told Always Investigating one showed up later in the day to start another fight.

When we last reported on school violence island-wide, Always Investigating learned that area of the Big Island is covered by a multimillion-dollar grant meant to intervene with behavior and drug problems. Three new social work positions were created from that money, but the jobs are still not yet listed for hire.

Farias says they hope to post internally soon and still have the roles filled before next semester starts. He says Pahoa itself has beefed up other staffing meanwhile.

“They’ve hired a bunch of extra help during recess and lunchtime, adult supervisors, so more people on campus to be seen, to be positive role models,” Farias said, “and I think we had six or seven weeks of really quiet time.”

“Whatever they say is being done isn’t being felt or even realized at the school level,” the Pahoa teacher told Always Investigating. “The teachers are entirely unaware of any effort being made, certainly no result of effort.”

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