UH study concludes Hawaii leads the nation in arrests of public school students

UH study concludes Hawaii leads the nation in arrests of public school students
Public school teachers and staff are set to return to the classroom next week, but we could see a delay in students heading back to school. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii leads the nation for arrest of public school students, a new University of Hawaii concludes.

But the Department of Education cautioned the study may be based on incorrect assumptions or data.

The report used data from the US Office of Civil Rights, DOE, and Honolulu Police Department. It found Hawaii’s schools contacted law enforcement more frequently than any other state.

From 2013 to 2016, more than 1,000 public school students were arrested and they are disproportionately Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Black and those with disabilities.

“The bottom line is a very serious over-representation among Native Hawaiian and Black students with and without disabilities who were arrested on school grounds,” said UH sociology Professor Omar Bird.

The study does not cite specific schools, grade levels or provide a gender breakdown.

However, the violations mentioned are often status offenses, such as running away or truancy, which professors say should not require police.

“One of the main inclusions and recommendations of our report is to shift public funds and public monies away from criminalizing students and towards actually addressing what is actually happening in their lives,” said UH sociology Professor Nandita Sharma.

“Instead of putting them into the criminal justice system, which we know has very long term consequences on their lives and on the community as well.”

The report proposes several recommendations including more school-based counseling and mental health therapy.

“The phenomenon of the school-to-prison pipeline is real and it is happening in Hawaii,” Sharma added. “We have an opportunity to address that and I think we should.”

The study also accuses the DOE of failing to “accurately report Information to the Office for Civil Rights” and relaying incorrect statistics in terms of student arrests.

In a statement released to Hawaii News Now late Wednesday, the DOE addressed the allegations:

The Department of Education has not had the opportunity to fully review the source data used for this report and the assertions being made. There have been issues in the past with our data reporting for the Civil Rights Data Collection survey, which we have worked to amend and correct. We’ve also recently implemented a data quality process — which includes formal data validation checks with subject matter experts and data managers/stewards — to ensure reporting requirements are met.

The Department is committed to ensuring our schools have positive climates and cultures where students can thrive. As we help our students develop crucial life skills, there will be times when they make decisions that can be detrimental to themselves and their peers, which is why we have a variety of wraparound services to address and prevent these types of behaviors.

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