HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school officials said there are more than a dozen cases where school employees accused of wrongdoing have continued to be paid -- but remained off the job -- for more than a year.
But officials said the backlog of personnel investigations has been dropping.
The Department of Education reported four separate cases where two teachers, a counselor and a custodian are each accused of having sexual relations with a student. And in two of those cases, the employees have been on paid leave for more than a year.
"This is an important issue. But I think it is really doing a disservice to the 21,690 employees who are not out on leave and are not accused of misconduct," said Barbara Kreig, the state Education Department's assistant superintendent for human resources.
The most pending complaints involve allegations of "inappropriate conduct toward students." There are 23 of those.
"It could be inappropriate verbal conduct, could be inappropriate physical contact, what looks like violence but could be, as it turns out, inadvertent," Kreig said.
The DOE also reported four pending hostile work environment complaints as well as four sexual harassment cases.
In 15 of the 40 current cases, school employees have been on paid leave for longer than one year. Teachers and education officers such as principals are never placed on unpaid leave, even if they are accused of wrongdoing.
In the last year and a half, the state has greatly decreased the number of pending cases, from 63 in December 2014 to 40 this month.
"That's something like a 36 percent improvement in terms of a decrease in the number of employees out on DDL, department-directed leave or leave pending investigation," Kreig said.
Kreig said cases must be investigated and then decisions must be made about discipline, with as many as three "due process" meetings required for the employee.
Last year, the DOE hired two temporary employees to perform investigations and train vice principals who carry out the probes at the school level, helping to reduce the amount of time investigations take to be completed.
"For the first time several months ago, we got to the point where there were no cases in which the investigation had not been completed for more than a year," Kreig said.
Early last fall, there were seven cases that had been in the investigative phase for longer than a year.
The teachers union said lengthy investigations with teachers on leave for long periods of time affect not only those teachers, but entire grade levels and certainly the students, who have to deal with multiple substitute teachers over months at a time.
"While the department is improving the length of time it takes, it still should not take months and months for an investigation to be completed," said Andrea Eshelman, the deputy executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Kreig said the department agrees and that's why it's taking efforts to improve the situation.