HIDOE's commitment to student civil rights
In January, the HIDOE received a long overdue review letter from the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) based on a compliance review OCR began back in 2011. While the letter was incomplete in that it did not capture all of the progress and work of the HIDOE with the support of the state legislature over the past several years, it did speak to something that we are in full agreement on — the rights of our public school students to be free from harassment and discrimination. Civil Rights are a fundamental value and human right.
All students must feel safe in their education setting to engage fully in the learning process. As a community we are committed to this core belief. While we continue to watch the flux at the federal level on whether to define civil rights protections broadly, the state of Hawai'i and our Department of Education policy holds to its commitment that there shall be no discrimination in any program, activity, or service of the public school system on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, ancestry or disability. In recent months there has been an intensifying of conversations in this nation about school safety relative to tragedies in places like Parkland, Florida and elsewhere, but we know the conversation cannot stop there. School safety is not just about physical safety on campus, but it is about the respect with which we treat one another, the responsiveness we undertake when someone is treated wrongly, and the positiveness of our campus communities as we speak boldly about equity.
When we received feedback from OCR that our complaint process for students needs to be updated, we immediately set in place a timeline in partnership with our Board of Education to revise state statute. While this is time consuming, it is a highly important process. Our Hawaii Administrative Rules under Title 8, Chapter 41 addresses the Civil Rights Policy and Complaint Procedure for our school system. Between now and the start of next school year, our internal team will be finalizing a draft of our proposed revised statute, and when we return in August we will be hosting several public hearings throughout the state to gather feedback. I encourage you to participate in this process and be part of the conversation. You can monitor our overall progress in updating Chapter 41 on the webpage for the HIDOE's Civil Rights Compliance Office (CRCO).
Once Chapter 41 is revised, we will have statewide training for employees and students. Training will be rolled out through a partnership between our CRCO team at the state office level and our staff at the complex level. With the support of the state legislature, we added 15 complex level civil rights coordinators to work directly with schools. This staffing reflects our commitment overall to an organizational culture that protects the civil rights of our students. The leadership, administration, teachers and staff of the Hawai'i public school system are committed to making every school a safe place for every student in Hawai'i.