HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An 8-year-old special education student was arrested for terroristic threatening at a Kalihi school Tuesday, according to the Honolulu Police Department. Police say the elementary school special education student is accused of verbally threatening a 22-year-old male teacher.
The principal confirmed the incident happened at Princess Victoria Ka'iulani Elementary School on Tuesday.
Police say no one was hurt and the child has been released pending an investigation.
What isn't clear is the nature of the threat, or whether weapons were involved, though the police paperwork does not mention any.
Department of Education officials will not confirm the report.
Lou Erteschik, the Executive Director of Hawai'i Disability Rights Center, which advocates for people with disabilities, was saddened but not surprised to hear about the arrest.
"There is a national problem that's growing with an over-policing of schools in the wake of school violence. There are a lot of situations that used to be handled by the school administrators that really still could. Lots of offenses are being blown out of proportion and leading to arrests," explained Erteschik, who prefaced his statement by saying he doesn't know exactly what happened in this situation, but finds it hard to believe the threat was real.
"The school should really try to deal with this. It's a bit of a cop out in a way to try to then just pass it off to police and sometimes what happens, I think, is they're so afraid of liability – everybody's so nervous about getting sued for not taking action – when arguably this is something that could be handled by the school," said Erteschik,
DOE officials say there is a very specific protocol in place for calling the police. They say typically students are first sent to the principal's office. Police are only called if the level of the threat or the perceived danger is so serious, it cannot be handled by school administration.
Chapter 19 policy dictates: "Police shall be directed to the principal or designee. Whenever possible the student shall be sent to the principal's office for the police officer to effect the pending arrest. Upon police arrival to arrest a student, the principal or designee shall make a good faith effort to inform the parent."
The DOE does not keep record of how many times police are called to their campuses.
Ivalee Sinclair is the Chair of the Special Education Advisory Council for the DOE, which is a mandated body that advises the department on the unmet needs of students with special needs. Sinclair admits this is a very unusual situation given how young the child is and given the support system that is supposed to be in place for special education students.
"It's a very traumatic experience for everyone and there should be pieces in place to prevent that. If the police were called, there should have been someone who intervened to say, 'Ok, this is a Special Ed youngster. Here's the crisis plan. Here's what we do. Thank you for coming,'"explained Sinclair.
Sinclair says budget cuts and lack of training has created an environment where inexperienced or improperly trained teachers wind up with special education students.
"One of my major concerns is that people be supported when they're in the classroom, so that the kids are supported, so that the kids can learn. Special Education is very complex and it's very costly and sometimes, you know, we do the best we can – but it isn't always that we have the resources that we need," described Sinclair.
Experts say it's highly unusual the student returned to school today, and more likely, has been suspended for a few days while an investigation takes place.