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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 3, 2005

Radford suspends 4 students; officials try to ease tensions

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Education Writer

Two Radford High School students who were directly involved in a Saturday night fracas that sparked a series of confrontations on campus have been told to stay home indefinitely, school officials said. Two other students have been sent home after related incidents Tuesday.

Police officers will remain on campus throughout the week, and school officials met yesterday with parents and military representatives to try to defuse lingering tensions, Radford vice principal Robert Frey said.

Some parents have said they believe that a group of black students who reside in the Aliamanu Military Reservation housing complex were attacked after a basketball game Saturday because of their race. The incident is being investigated by police, school officials and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Police Capt. Randy Macadangdang said interviews with victims have not revealed the use of racist remarks by anyone involved in the fight, however.

"Right now, there is no indication of any racial things or, quote unquote, 'hate crimes'," he said yesterday.

Macadangdang said investigators would re-interview two of the victims today. No arrests have been made.

Frey said two students involved in Saturday's incident had been told to stay home until a final decision is made on disciplinary action. Authorities are still working to identify all the students involved and determine what roles they played, but others could face discipline, he said.

The school wants to work with parents and authorities to prevent future problems, he said.

"We take this seriously," Frey said. "We are not sitting on it. We are not hiding in the sand, we are not letting it go. We take this seriously and we will take whatever measures are necessary to keep our students safe."

The problems began with an altercation between two boys during a junior varsity basketball game at the school Saturday night that was initially broken up, he said. It remains unclear what started the dispute, but school officials have found no evidence that it was racially motivated, Frey said. The boys were from different ethnic groups but were both military dependents, he said.

Female students were involved in a larger altercation later and in subsequent disputes on campus. The group that was attacked in the Saturday melee comprised mostly black students, and the group of assailants were of various ethnicities but also included a few blacks, Frey said.

At least one later confrontation had clear racial overtones, however. A mixed-race student who was kicked out of Radford on Tuesday admitted he had used a racial epithet when confronting a student who, he said, was among a black group that arbitrarily accosted him the previous day.

Frey said the student would have to go to another school. He lives outside the area that Radford normally draws students from, and had been admitted as a "geographic exception," Frey said. A second student was suspended Tuesday after a separate but related incident.

Frey said school officials are investigating whether any of the problems were linked to gang activity or attempts to start a gang. The school has no serious gang problems, but takes such concerns very seriously, he said.

"We have not had a gang problem for a long time, and we have never had a serious gang problem," Frey said. "There's always people who are looking for groups to belong to, and ways to aggrandize themselves and what-not, so there's always that possibility."

The school does not allow students to wear clothing or items that can signify gang allegiances, such as bandannas or sweatbands, he said.

"I know that if we relaxed our requirements about gang-wear and that kind of stuff, that there would be gang activity on campus within just a couple of days, so we are not giving up on that," he said.

Alphonso Braggs, president of the Honolulu chapter of the NAACP, said he was very appreciative that state Board of Education chairman Breene Harimoto attended a meeting with parents Tuesday night to hear their concerns about the tensions.

"It was a tremendously good thing that he was there, and it speaks volumes of the board's commitment to helping to see this matter properly resolved, and also his personal commitment," Braggs said.

He stressed that the intent of focusing attention on the incidents was to make Radford and other schools safe, and not to give the schools or students a bad name.

"A lot of the revelations that are coming out are not all negative," he said. "I have yet to find one individual in this process who's interested in us putting out a laundry list of inadequacies or failures or all those type things. Every individual I've spoken to has been more concerned with what it is that we can now do to make things better for the children."

Pearl City police officer Rom Baysa said that of the four schools covered by his district, Radford is considered the least rowdy. Fewer complaints were made to police about incidents at Radford in 2004 than at 'Aiea, Pearl City or Waipahu high schools, according to police.

Advertiser Staff Writer Peter Boylan contributed to this report. Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.