EXCLUSIVE: School abuse prompts calls for federal intervention

Published: Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:04 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 2:13 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rapes and assaults of deaf and blind students and allegations that autistic children are being physically assaulted at Hawaii public schools have prompted attorneys for the children to seek federal intervention.

Eric Seitz says he's also considering a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Education just as he and several other attorneys did 20 years ago, in what led to the Felix Consent Decree.

"The Department of Education is in denial. They don't take responsibility for a lot of bad things that are happening," he said.

Seitz represents several students at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind who were sexually assaulted and terrorized by larger children. The state recently agreed to pay $5 million because school officials failed protect the children even though they were aware of the problems.

He also represents three former students at the Kipapa Elementary School in Mililani who were allegedly held down by the neck, tied to their chairs and even force fed.

"If the DOE does not take a better prospective on these concerns and act upon them, the Justice Department will challenge their funding or will in the alternative file a lawsuit, " Seitz said.

The last time something like that happened was 1993 when the Felix Consent Decree was established. That placed the DOE's special ed programs under federal oversight and forced the state to invest more than $1 billion to upgrade its special education programs.

Several advocates for disabled students say the federal government should step in again.

"Because of the way the DOE is opposing families of disabled children ... we're seeking help," said attorney Carl Varady.

Varady, who also worked on the original Felix lawsuit, said he recently contacted the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of several disabled students harmed by their teachers.

They include an autistic student who collapsed and nearly died in 2010 after a special education teacher at Kailua High School ordered him run three miles in 24 minutes on a treadmill. He was forced to do so while wearing a jacket and latex gloves.

"When you put a child on a treadmill and run him to exhaustion and he requires emergency treatment ... clearly something is going seriously wrong in these cases," Varady said.

The DOE wouldn't comment on the calls for federal intervention. It also won't talk about the Deaf and Blind School case. School Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi did say that the Kipapa Elementary School cases never happened.

"There was no finding against the employees that the allegations were made against so they were allowed to return to work," Matayoshi said.

More lawsuits will likely be filed and that's likely to add to the chorus of advocates calling for federal intervention.

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