Suit: Public schools 'deliberately' indifferent to bullying victims

Published: Aug. 30, 2018 at 3:38 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2018 at 4:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three families who say their children were bullied or harassed in Hawaii public schools have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state Department of Education.

The allegations include a Mililani Middle School student who says she endured racial taunts and a videotaped beating, and a student at Wailuku Elementary who says her complaints of sexual harassment and threats by another student were ignored.

The third student, at Castle High School, says she was assaulted despite warning school officials that another student was planning to beat her up.

The lawsuit points out that the federal Office of Civil Rights found the department was not complying with federal laws meant to protect students from discrimination, harassment and violence.

Federal investigators also found that nearly 1 in 3 Hawaii public school students said they've been victims of bullying or harassment.

The department responded to that report at the time, saying the data was old and that policies and training had already improved.

On Thursday, the DOE declined to comment on the case, saying it could not make a statement before fully reviewing the suit.

The lawsuit was filed by Civil Rights Attorney Eric Seitz, who says he is seeking to form a class action so that other families whose children suffered bullying at school can join the lawsuit.

He said that could make the lawsuit even larger than a case brought in the 1980s, which found the department failed to provide adequate services for children with special needs and resulted in the so-called Felix Consent Decree.

The bullying lawsuit alleges the state Education Department was negligent in its handling of bullying and harassment complaints, and that its failure to act to protect students should be considered child abuse.

"The continuing practice of the defendants and their deliberate indifference towards victims of bullying and harassment harms all of Hawaii's students by systematically supporting the behavior, and needlessly puts the entire student population at risk of significant and irreparable damage," the lawsuit said. "

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