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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 21, 2006

BOE looks into 'cyber bullying'

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

In the wake of violence involving high schools on O'ahu and the Big Island in the last two months, the Board of Education has formed an ad-hoc committee on school safety, with "cyber bullying" on youth-oriented Web sites one of the issues under scrutiny.

Postings on the Web site MySpace two months ago, including video of a fight between students from Farrington and Campbell, helped escalate a fracas between some students at those schools. The tensions have since been resolved through mediation handled by the private counseling group Adult Friends for Youth.

Darwin Ching, chairman of the committee, said the new group will look at how schools should respond to what's written by students on Web sites to evaluate the level of threat and whether intervention is needed.

Ching said action would likely involve counseling for students who post defamatory material, with the likelihood of parents also being included.

Bringing home the issue of bullying, third-grade student Gini Gustafson told the board during public testimony in the evening that she had been bullied so badly at her school that she got sick and her parents had to move her to a private school. She was hit and scratched and robbed, she said, and the vice principal did nothing. "Please make rules that bullying is not allowed in the schools," she said.

In its bimonthly meeting yesterday, board members also expressed concern that under current funding levels of the Weighted Student Formula that takes effect with the next school year, some schools are limiting arts and music programs.

"We're seeing more e-mails where the arts are being dumped," said first vice chairwoman Karen Knudsen, calling on the board to move on the issue to protect the arts. Board member Mary Cochran said several schools "are completely eliminating the band."

Board member Breene Harimoto pointed to research that shows the arts are linked to achievement, and that students who excel in the arts also excel academically. "No Child Left Behind defines the arts as one of the four core areas," he said. "There are mounds of data that show the arts enhance academics."

In evening testimony, Hawai'i State Teachers Association president Roger Takabayashi took the department to task for additional paperwork he said it has loaded on teachers this year, driving many to leave. "The department has dumped a ton of bright ideas on their teachers and just says, 'Deal with it,' " he said, calling the department's reaction to this concern a "culture of indifference."

In response, schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the department takes the concerns seriously and will work with the union "to see what is the best way we can reduce the paperwork." But she said this does not appear to be driving teachers away, and DOE Human Resources director Gerald Okamoto said no more teachers than usual are leaving this year.

Before adjourning, the board approved salary increases of $5,000 a year for 20 of the DOE's senior officials, including complex area superintendents, four assistant superintendents and one deputy superintendent. Their annual salaries range from $110,000 to $115,000, a move that it was said will help retain personnel.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.