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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2004

ACLU, Big Island charter school settle strip-search lawsuit

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

A Big Island charter school will re-examine its disciplinary policies and train its faculty on when it is appropriate to search students to settle a lawsuit accusing the principal and his secretary of illegally strip-searching a 15-year-old girl.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed in May 2003 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i against Steve Hirakami, principal of the Hawai'i Academy of Arts and Sciences charter school in Pahoa, and his secretary, Andrea Irvine.

Lois K. Perrin, legal director for the ACLU of Hawai'i, said the settlement would be filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu today.

"It became apparent that the current policy regarding student searches is terribly flawed," Perrin said yesterday. "The ACLU and the plaintiffs are pleased that the Academy has agreed to revisit its policy and to accept training in this important area."

Deputy Attorney General John Cregor said the state investigated the matter and was ready to go to court but felt the case "was a good one to close the door on."

"We agreed that the charter school would review its policy on searches," Cregor said. "We didn't want to have another lawsuit or have this question come up again."

Hirakami and Irvine, the only defendants named in the lawsuit, admitted no wrongdoing. Hirakami, who was also named interim head of the state's charter schools in June by the state Board of Education, did not return phone messages asking for comment.

Perrin and Cregor said the settlement does not include any money paid to the plaintiffs.

The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of the student identified as "Jane Doe," and her mother, who said her daughter was forced to remove her clothes after she and two other students — one male, one female — were accused of stealing $30 from a school van driver on Jan. 30, 2003.

According to the lawsuit, Hirakami and Hawai'i County police questioned the students and searched their belongings, but no cash turned up.

Hirakami then ordered Irvine to conduct strip-searches of the two girls, the lawsuit said.

The ACLU said the boy was asked only to partially show that he wasn't concealing anything, while the mother of the other girl was present at the time and consented to the search.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Hirakami called the accusations false and denied a strip-search ever took place.

Under terms of the settlement, the board of the Hawai'i Academy of Arts and Sciences will consult with the attorney general's office to re-examine its student discipline policies, although it is not required to adopt any new rules and regulations.

The attorney general's office also is to provide training to the school's faculty and staff on student discipline, specifically on conducting searches in disciplinary situations.

The board and the attorney general's office have agreed to consult with the ACLU on both matters but would not be bound by the organization's advice, Perrin said.

Under the agreement, the attorney general's office also must offer similar training to all other charter schools. The boards at each school would be free to accept or reject the training.