HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Education leaders are facing a tough assignment. Despite an anti-bullying campaign in Hawaii schools, bullying and harassment cases went up during the 2011- 2012 school year.
The state launched the campaign in October 2011 with emotional ads from students. The Department of Education and Board of Education are also working on a program with more training for educators and a push to prevent bullying before it starts.
"We've done a lot in the department in terms of building an infrastructure to make sure that we're collecting the data, that we've got programs in place to address the issue, help teach kids the right things to do, but we have more to do," said DOE deputy superintendent Ronn Nozoe.
709 incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment were reported in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the DOE. That figure is up from 591 incidents in the 2010-2011 school year. It is unclear if the increase in incidents is tied to students feeling more comfortable reporting the problem.
If you compare first semester incidents through mid-December of each school year, there were a total of 2,506 in the 2012-2013 school year, which is down from 3,019 in the 2011-2012 school year.
"Of all the things, safety and happiness are the most important. All the other things you can replace, but you can't replace lives," said Nozoe.
Bullying is just one challenge facing the Board of Education. Members also tackled school security measures at Tuesday's meeting, in light of last month's mass shooting in Connecticut.
"We're always trying to strengthen our plans. We're never completely ready so we always try to evolve, improve. So this is a good time to take another look at involving our community first responders as well," said Mark Behrens, director of the DOE's Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness Branch.
Police responded to Highlands Intermediate School on Tuesday morning after a witness saw a man with a shuriken, also known as a metal throwing spike. Officers arrested Jay Villiaros Jr., 52, near the campus for possessing a deadly weapon and illegal narcotics.
"Kids cannot learn unless they feel safe," said Behrens.
But sometimes the problem starts with the students. There have been lockdowns at three schools recently. Two were for extensive fights and the other was due to a stabbing.
"I think it's a great wake-up call for Hawaii," said Nozoe. "Schools take a lot of responsibility and we should, it's our call, but it is also a community responsibility for everybody to say we're not going to tolerate this kind of behavior."