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Kealakehe to Boost Security to Deal With Ethnic ‘Misunderstanding’

Posted December 7, 2012, 05:11 PM HST
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Kealakehe High School. Google Street View image.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education said classes will resume Monday at Kealakehe High School in Kona with beefed-up security and counselors on hand.

School officials decided Thursday to cancel classes today in response to a series of fights over the past two days resulting from racial tensions.

DOE officials today said the fighting was the result of a “misunderstanding” between local students and those of Micronesian and Marshallese ethnicity involving the various cultures and lifestyles.

DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said some of the fighting resulted from students “egging each other on and taunting.”

“This misunderstanding of cultural assimilation by Marshallese and Micronesian families is not isolated to Kealakehe High School,” said Art Souza, superintendent for the DOE’s West Hawaii Complex Area, said in a statement issued today. “This is a community issue that we are addressing.”

Souza said he has been in discussion with lawmakers and local agencies about the topic of cultural assimilation and the issues it raises in the Kona community.

The fighting on Wednesday prompted a lockdown during which students were confined to classrooms.

On Thursday, it resulted in police taking eight students into custody. Students were also sent home early and in increments as buses arrived.

Police said the students, seven boys and one girl, all of them juveniles, were charged with disorderly conduct and released. No one was seriously hurt, police said.

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The DOE said the students charged face disciplinary actions that could include suspension from school.

The school will have four additional security personnel temporarily on the campus Monday. There will also be counselors available to address harassment and bullying, the DOE said.

Dela Cruz today said that there may also be police officers present.

“We want to thank the Hawaii Police Department and the Kealakehe High School faculty for their actions in ensuring a safe environment for students,” state schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said.  “What could have been explosive situation was contained, and community issues that have played a role in the recent disruptions are being addressed. We also thank the parents for their understanding.”

Earlier today, Capt. Richard Sherlock of the Kona Patrol said the police department has been meeting with school officials.

“We are working with them to try to help them ease out of this situation,” he said.

According to the DOE statement, Monday’s class schedule will be adjusted to “accommodate” for today’s loss of instruction time.

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