Nearly a fifth of Hawaii’s school-age children have been victims, bullies or both. And schools aren’t required to do anything about it.


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Photo by Mark Arbeit

At Mililani Ike Elementary, one of a minority of public schools with an anti-bullying program in place, Officer Josie Kaanehe teaches students about bullying as part of the DARE program.

The widespread use of chat rooms, instant messaging and online networking sites such as MySpace give bullies another way to harass students. It’s common for bullying to originate online and turn up on school grounds, where physical fights result.

“Cyberbullying is a rising concern,” says Detective Chris Duque, computer crime investigator for HPD. “Unlike identity theft, cyberbullying is not normally categorized as a crime and therefore law enforcement does not intervene.” Unless a crime is committed such as defacing a person’s online profile, it is not illegal to tease and taunt via the Internet.

In recent years, concerns over bullying and cyberbullying have taken center stage at legislatures around the country. Currently, at least a dozen states are considering anti-bullying laws. Several of those efforts were prompted by the suicides of bullying victims in their states.  

Similar measures at Hawaii’s state Legislature have fizzled in recent years. In 2006, Kaanehe authored an unsuccessful resolution calling for legislators to enact an anti-bullying law. The measure died after the BOE told legislators that the DOE’s existing policy, Chapter 19, sufficiently addressed the issue.

In January of this year, 63 out of Hawaii’s 76 legislators voted for bills that would fund anti-bullying programs in the public schools and require the DOE to strengthen its anti-bullying procedures. The legislation included a confidential reporting process for cyberbullying victims and would have required schools to record, investigate and respond to incidents. Those measures died, as well.

Senate Education chairman Norman Sakamoto says the Legislature should not pass anti-bullying legislation unless the BOE proposes it, since board members are already looking into the issue. “The hope at this stage is that the DOE will come up with better recommendations,” says Sakamoto.

DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen says, “If we were ignoring or refusing to do anything about it, the Legislature could jump in, but at this point, it would just be duplication of effort.”

who initiated the Senate bill, disagrees. “Despite the DOE’s existing policies and procedures, the policies have not been effective in reducing bullying,” she says. State Rep. John Mizuno, who introduced an identical bill in the House, says he will revive the measure next year.

The failure of the state to take quicker action has been a major disappointment for Kaanehe. As part of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program where officers teach anti-drug programs in local schools, Kaanehe noticed that children as young as kindergarten age were being bullied. She soon became Hawaii’s representative for BPUSA.

 “Being a rep, parents are able to contact me through the Web site and tell me about their situation,” says Kaanehe, who recently tried to help the family of an 11-year-old who was contemplating suicide.  “I know of two families who couldn’t afford to move to a different school district or put their kids in private schools, but also couldn’t take the pain it was causing their kids. Both families packed up and moved to the Mainland.”

Many more students and families don’t have the option of moving away from bullying problems—an option that families should never have to take. Last summer, for instance, a 13-year-old boy we’ll call Jerry enrolled in a Big Island intermediate school and caught the unwanted attention of students from a neighboring high school. They started bullying Jerry off campus. One of the bullies, whom we’ll call Rick, left threatening messages on Jerry’s cell phone.

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