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DOE Won’t Discuss Hilo High Threat; Matter May Go to Court

Posted February 22, 2013, 02:52 PM HST Updated February 22, 2013, 05:59 PM HST
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Photo by Dave Smith.

A Department of Education spokeswoman today declined to discuss the nature of a threat Hilo High School’s principal has said he received over a lecture previously planned for anti-war activist Jim Albertini.

Principal Robert Dircks on Wednesday cited the threat and “the volume of concerns raised by a number of community members” in the reversal of his Tuesday decision to allow Albertini to present a lecture on participatory democracy.

Dircks has reportedly said that the concerns were roughly evenly divided between those in favor and those opposed to Albertini speaking.

Spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz told Big Island Now she couldn’t discuss details about the threat because Albertini has obtained legal counsel on the matter, and because the DOE was concerned about “copycat” actions.

“It was threatening enough that it would disrupt school operations,” she said.

Dela Cruz said she didn’t want to elaborate further because her comments might be used in any lawsuit that might be filed.

She said police have not been consulted on the issue.

Albertini confirmed today that he had contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and subsequently discussed the issue with Oahu attorney Eric Seitz.

He said Seitz has sent a letter to Dircks requesting that the matter be resolved by Monday or Seitz will file a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court in Honolulu.

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Albertini said he is requesting three things: that Dircks allow him to speak to students within a month, that the presentation be made in a classroom and not in the school’s library, and that the date of the lecture not be made public in order to avoid a confrontation with conservative activists.

“I’m trying to come up with good-faith efforts to diffuse this,” he said today.

The school’s librarian had previously expressed opposition to the presentation being made in the library.

Albertini said he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to contact Dircks, saying that, among other things, he would like to know whether the threat to which Dircks referred was aimed at the principal, the school or Albertini himself.

In response to Dircks’ previous statement that at one point he planned to have another speaker to provide an opposing viewpoint to Albertini’s anti-military position, Albertini said he didn’t think a debate would be the best way to resolve the matter but is nonetheless willing to take part.

He also noted that the US Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps already has a presence on the Hilo High campus.

Albertini said the presentation proposed by Hilo High social studies teacher Joseph Watts is nothing new as he has previously lectured at that school as well as at Waiakea, St. Joseph and other high schools.

“I’ve spoken at classes all over the state for 40 years,” he said.

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