Sit-in at Lingle's office ends
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
A group of parents and students halted their eight-day occupation of the governor's office last night, but said they will continue their fight to end public school furloughs.
The sit-in came to an end about 7:30 p.m., when state sheriff's deputies made another round of arrests and citations for people refusing to leave the lobby of Gov. Linda Lingle's office after closing time.
Two women were arrested for criminal trespassing, while five others were cited for trespassing. On Tuesday, two people also were arrested by state sheriffs for refusing to leave the lobby of Lingle's office.
Since the sit-in began April 7, deputies have issued 33 trespassing citations — with some people getting more than one — and arrested four people.
Clare Hanusz, a parent of two children at Noelani Elementary School in Mānoa, said the protesters decided to end their vigil "because it became painfully evident that the governor had absolutely no interest in hearing anything from parents representing kids in public school."
Last night's arrests came hours after dozens of parents, students and supporters packed the governor's office for a press conference. Lingle did not attend the event, but one of her spokesmen, Russell Pang, stood by.
Marguerite Higa, one of the women arrested last night, and Joann Marshall criticized the governor for ignoring the protesters during their eight-day sit-in.
Instead, Lingle ordered state sheriffs to arrest anyone who refused to leave after her office closes at 4:30 p.m.
"This is not a face-to-face dialogue," Higa said. "Gov. Lingle told us that she would not meet with people like us. People like us? We're regular people. We speak for 170,000 school students in Hawai'i. We are your constituents. It is your job to listen to us."
Higa and Marshall said they were frustrated by the lack of response they're getting from the governor.
On Tuesday, Lingle held a press conference and invited the protesters to attend — but she refused to take any questions from the group.
Marshall said the protesters will continue to try and meet with Lingle, but they also will turn their attention to other leaders, particularly gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, former Congressman Neil Abercrombie, and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
"We look to our other elected officials to fill the leadership vacuum and we will look to them in the coming days to see that they stand up for Hawai'i's children," Marshall said.
Abercrombie yesterday issued a statement in support of the protesters, saying, in part, "All parties must work together — in the same room, face to face — immediately and continuously until they agree on a way to put students back in school."
Hanusz last night said the parents also will focus on other parties in the furlough issue, including the Department of Education, Hawai'i State Teachers Association, and leaders of the state Legislature.
"This saga is over," she said. "The governor's given up on our kids, we have not given up on our kids. We've given up on the governor."
Earlier in the day, Higa and Marshall said they believed Lingle does not support the public school system and has no intention of ending the furlough days.
"Rather than take the lead and get the parties back to the table, she prefers to communicate through press conference and arrests," Marshall said.
Pang, Lingle's spokesman, declined comment after the press conference.
Lingle acknowledged on Tuesday that the chances of reaching an agreement to end the furloughs this school year are slim, but said she is confident the Legislature will take action to end furloughs for the 2010-11 school year.
Yesterday's press conference was attended by several elected officials and attorney Eric Seitz, who has agreed to represent those protesters who were arrested and cited.