East Hawaii News

UPDATE: Principal Bans Lecture, Cites Threat Made Against School

February 21, 2013, 4:41 PM HST
* Updated February 22, 12:17 AM
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***Updated at 6:33 p.m.***

Citing a threat he had received to Hilo High School’s operations, Principal Robert Dircks on Wednesday reversed his position of a day before and cancelled a planned lecture by an anti-war activist.

Jim Albertini of Kurtistown had been invited by Hilo High social studies teacher Joseph Watts to give the presentations next month on “participating in democracy.”

The plan ran into opposition from the school’s librarian, Amy Okuyama, who said she did not want an anti-military message delivered in the library.

Watts then made plans to have the presentation given in his classroom.

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Dircks on Tuesday had told Watts that the presentation could go ahead.

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However, Dircks cancelled the talks on Wednesday.

This afternoon Dircks sent an email to a member of the community saying that Albertini’s presentation was cancelled “due to the volume of concerns raised by a number of community members, which included a threat to our operations.”

Dircks made the comment in an email to Nelson Ho, a former deputy director of the county Department of Environmental Management and a longtime member of the Sierra Club. It was in reply to an emailed letter from Ho calling the cancellation “reprehensible and a return to the darkest days of the Vietnam War era censorship.”

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“Is the Principal and DOE so fearful of ideas that they must be arbitrarily and capriciously censored from the students?” Ho’s letter said.

Dircks’ response described Albertini as a “controversial individual,” and said the plans were to have another guest speaker to “counter his views about the military in Hawaii, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by the military, and the roles, rights, and responsibilities as citizens.”

Dircks told Ho that Department of Education policies give principals the final say on the use of school facilities.

“If the requested activities interfere with normal school operations, the principal may reject the request,” he said.

Albertini said the reason given to him was that Dircks had decided that the presentation would “disrupt the school.”

“If talking about peace and non-violence is ‘going to disrupt the school,’ we are in deep trouble as a society,” Albertini said in a press release issued Wednesday night.

Albertini’s presentation has been the focus of an email being forwarded by supporters of the military with the subject line “Albertini and crew attack military Mom who is Hilo H.S. librarian.” The email and comments added to it sought to drum up support for Okuyama’s position.

“This is how they invade our schools and indoctrinate our youth, right here at home….,” said the original email from Robert Gowan, a Kona coffee farmer who is the head of Hawaii Eagles, a chapter of the Gathering of Eagles, a conservative veterans group.

Gowan has been publicly critical of Albertini before, describing him in an Oct. 31, 2012 letter to a local newspaper as “the negative side of the community voice.”

The connection with the veterans group is ironic, as noted by Oahu blogger Ian Lind, because the mission statement for the Gathering of Eagles describes freedom of speech as “one of the greatest things our country espouses.”

“…We absolutely hold that any American citizen has the right to express his or her approval or disapproval with any policy, law, or action of our nation and her government in a peaceful manner as afforded by the laws of our land,” the statement said.

Albertini said he was told that Dircks was willing to discuss the situation, but as of late this afternoon he was unable to get in touch with him.

Dircks did not return several telephone calls from Big Island Now seeking comment on the matter.

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