The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is seeking to have its updated student misconduct and discipline code in place for the 2019-20 school year to help schools address and deter incidents of bullying and harassment.
“Everyone — from students to parents to teachers, school leaders and community stakeholders — has a role to play in bullying prevention and response in an effort to promote a culture of respect, responsibility and resiliency,” said Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. “For our part, we remain as committed as ever to providing a safe learning environment for all students. This includes a longstanding commitment to be highly responsive to all student misconduct and to proactively educate our students and staff on effective behavior interventions and peer-to-peer support, and provide opportunities for embedded social-emotional learning.”
After receiving tentative approval from the Board of Education in October, the Department hosted 11 community engagement sessions statewide to solicit feedback on the proposed updates.
The Department carefully considered feedback from the public and advocacy groups and has incorporated suggestions in its latest round of revisions, which include:
- Elevating the student offense of bullying for high school students (grades 9-12) to a Class A offense — the most serious category of prohibited conduct. Bullying, harassment and cyberbullying currently are Class B offenses for all students. It would remain a lower-level offense for students in kindergarten to 8th grade.
- Separating the definitions of bullying and harassment rather than having a combined definition. Bullying would be defined as any written, verbal, graphic, or physical act that hurts, harms, humiliates or intimidates a student, including those with protected class statuses, that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment.
- Defining protected classes as including race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, national origin, ancestry, disability, physical appearance and characteristics, and socioeconomic status.
- Creating a new section that outlines the procedures for handling protected class complaints and investigations of discrimination, harassment, bullying and/or retaliation.
Chapter 19 was last revised in 2009 to establish a proactive student discipline system that emphasizes positive behavioral interventions and supports.
The rules are being updated in part to satisfy requirements of a resolution agreement reached in 2017 between HIDOE and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The federal office initiated a compliance review of HIDOE’s policies related to bullying and harassment based on race, sex and disability. There was no complaint that prompted the review.
Under existing Chapter 19 language, any teacher or school employee who witnesses a Class A or Class B offense, or who has reasonable cause to believe an offense has been committed or will be committed, must promptly report the incident to the school principal, who must conduct an investigation. Under the revisions, school administrators will aim to complete investigations within five school days.
Chapter 19 generally does not prescribe specific disciplinary actions for violations; that discretion and authority is handled at the school level. The existing rules state that in determining disciplinary actions, a school principal has to consider five factors: the intention of the offender, the nature and severity of the offense, the impact of the offense on others, the age of the offender, and if the student is a repeat offender.
The Board of Education on Thursday cleared the way for the Department to proceed to a public hearing with the updates. Information on the hearing, which requires a 30-day notice, will be made public once details are finalized. HIDOE will then need to seek final approval for adoption from the Board to begin implementation and training.