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UH Report Finds There Is Excessive, Discriminatory Policing At O?ahu Schools

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A new report from the University of Hawai?i finds there is discriminatory policing at O?ahu schools. And the department of education fails to accurately report the policing to the federal government.

The study from UH's sociology department found O?ahu schools rely heavily on police when disciplining students, and violates national juvenile justice policies.

Researchers collected data from the Honolulu Police Department, and compared it to data and reports from the state department of education over the last decade.

"We found that people who have disabilities and people who are represented in some racial ethnic groups are overrepresented in arrests in status offenses, people who are arrested on school grounds, and people who are referred to the police by the school administration," said Omar Bird, one of the report's authors.

The report found that Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Black students are also overrepresented in arrests or referred to police. 

For instance, Native Hawaiians account for 32% of K-12 enrollment in the state, but more than half of arrested students during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years were of Hawaiian descent. 

For the 2017-18 school year, the DOE reported that 100% of students arrested had a disability. Even though, students with disabilities made up 23% of the student body during the 2015-16 school years.

Researchers say a majority of students were not arrested because they committed a violent or property crime. Most were arrested because of truancy or running -- also known as a status offense.

The DOE is responsible for tracking and reporting data on suspensions and arrests to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. But researchers found the department has consistently failed to report accurate information, and has been non-compliant to federal mandates for at least 15 years.

"There's been a lot of inconsistent reporting among the DOE throughout the years to this specific type of information," Bird said.

"For example, in 2019 there was a report requested by the Government Accountability Office for rates of restraint and seclusion among the largest 20 districts. And through that reporting, there was inconsistency with: who was counted, who was not counted, and there was a discrepancy in numbers reported that contradicted a lot of information that the DOE was reporting on."

According to the report, in 2006 the DOE indicated no students were arrested or referred to the police. But researchers believe that is unlikely, and the department "failed to collect and/or report policing data."

Researchers suggest the DOE end the criminalization of students, and implement more in-school programs and services to help students. 

They also suggest the DOE become compliant with federal mandates and state requirements for accurate and timely data on the number and demographics of students suspended, arrested or referred to police.

The state Department of Education provided HPR with the following statement:

The Department of Education has not had the opportunity to fully review the source data used for this report and the assertions being made. There have been issues in the past with our data reporting for the Civil Rights Data Collection survey, which we have worked to amend and correct. We've also recently implemented a data quality process -- which includes formal data validation checks with subject matter experts and data managers/stewards -- to ensure reporting requirements are met.

The Department is committed to ensuring our schools have positive climates and cultures where students can thrive. As we help our students develop crucial life skills, there will be times when they make decisions that can be detrimental to themselves and their peers, which is why we have a variety of wraparound services to address and prevent these types of behaviors.

You can read UH's full report here.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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