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Students will see heightened security at Kealakehe Police, DOE personnel will be there when school reopens

Classes will resume Monday at Kealakehe High School — under enhanced security, including police officers, in the wake of two days of violence and lockdowns triggered by cultural and racial tensions that led to arrests and fights on campus.

Hawaii Department of Education security along with Hawaii Police Department Community Policing Officers will assist the 1,600-student high school’s security staff when the school reopens at 9 a.m., West Hawaii Area Complex Superintendent Art Souza said. The school will operate on a modified schedule with staggered recesses to minimize the number of students outside classrooms at one time and make up for instruction time lost on Friday.

The nearly 15-year-old high school will also offer enhanced counseling and support to students in an effort to bring normalcy back to campus following several incidents at the school Wednesday and Thursday. Souza said Principal Wilfred Murakami and teachers planned to work with students on anti-bullying and harassment.

“There has to be interaction directly with the kids on the issue in order to move forward,” Souza said. “Ultimately, the adults can do as much as they want to, but the kids have to be involved, too.”

School officials are monitoring social media and networking sites for any instances of students agitating or inciting additional incidents. There will likely be consequences for such activity, he said.

He said officials will not peruse students’ sites, but rather keep an overall eye on the issue.

Kealakehe closed early Thursday and remained closed Friday in the incidents that led to multiple fights breaking out and eight arrests on campus. The students arrested — one female and seven males — were each charged with disorderly conduct and released.

The investigation into what caused the violence and lockdowns continues, Souza said. He said arguments between involved students were a misunderstanding between local, Micronesian and Marshallese cultures and lifestyles.

The consequences for students involved on each side will range from suspension to expulsion, Souza added.

“This is serious enough of a matter that I know expulsion is being considered,” he said. “Nothing will be handled lightly.”

On Friday, Souza, Murakami, police and faculty members met at the school to discuss the incidents, their handling and how the school will move forward when it reopens Monday. They will reassess additional security needs at the school after Monday.

At the meeting, which was not open to the media, Souza said they also discussed consequences that should be in place for students involved and how the school can better mitigate such incidents in the future.

Souza said school officials had been aware of cultural and racial tension between groups at the school, however, the issue is not confined to the perimeters of Kealakehe High School.

He said he does not believe these incidents will spread to other schools, despite “the element of cultural friction that may be present at many schools.”

“What happened at Kealakehe High School is a larger community issue, and unless we address this community issue, it could happen elsewhere,” Souza said.

Souza encouraged community leaders to attend a Wednesday Marshallese cultural awareness forum, which requires registration, that starts at 8:30 a.m. at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. If interested, contact Marianne Okamura at 327-4787.

“We need the community leaders to really come together and figure out how we can move forward,” he said. “It’s going to take community action. We need to put a support program, a plan, in place.”

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