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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sexual Abuses Alleged at State School

HONOLULU (CN) - As Hawaii nails down a class-action settlement involving sexual abuse at the state Center for the Deaf and Blind, it faces a new lawsuit on similar charges.

In the new complaint, the mother of 18-year-old A.H. claims her daughter was raped by fellow students and a state employee at three Hawaii schools.

The mother, R.H., claims her daughter is "incompetent," with an I.Q. of 40.

She sued the state, its Department of Education, state Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, McKinley High School vice principal Anthony Jones and its special education teacher Chris Nakagawa. A.H. attended the School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Lanakila Center, and McKinley High, all state schools, according to the complaint in Oahu First Circuit Court.

The mother claims that her daughters teacher and state administrators not only failed to investigate the abuse that occurred on and off school grounds, but conspired to cover it up, and then suspended her.

The mother claims that special-ed teacher Nakagawa described her daughter like this in a required report: "'Socially, [A.H.] seems to get along well with her peers. She is a pleasant girl with a good sense of humor. Only concern I have is for peers not to take advantage of her.'"

The complaint continues: "Notwithstanding defendant Nakagawa and the Hawaii DOE's substantial knowledge not only of A.H.s susceptibility, but that she was being affirmatively abused and assaulted, they did nothing to protect A.H. To the contrary, the Hawaii DOE unjustifiably blamed R.H. and disciplined A.H. for its own failures to protect her. One such incident occurred on January 4, 2011, when defendants became aware that a student demanded openly in a classroom that A.H. meet him in the bathroom and perform oral sex on him. When school administrators discovered this act they disciplined A.H. for this incident by suspending her from school rather than taking further care in protecting and supervising her.

"Defendant Anthony Jones wrongly blamed the incident on R.H. and accused her of lacking suitable parenting skills."

According to the complaint, Dr. Karen Tyson, a clinical psychologist, reported in 2011 that A.H. was "highly susceptible to peer pressure and had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior on several occasions as a result of coercion by her student peers."

Tyson, who is not a party to the complaint, helped A.G. develop social skills and recommended she "be taught emergency help-seeking behavior," the mother says.

"Dr. Tyson stated that [A.H.] should not ever be unsupervised while on school grounds. Defendants failed and refused to follow Dr. Tyson's recommendations."

A.H. split her attendance between McKinley High School, Lanakila Center for skills training and the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and Blind in Honolulu. Her mom claims the girl was abused at all three schools, due to her psychological condition, beginning in the 9th grade.

The complaint states: "In an April 15, 2011 'Functional Behavioral Assessment Initial Inquiry,' report prepared by the defendant Hawai'i DOE, A.H. is described as gullible. The report recounts a number of acts of sexual abuse as a result of A.H. being coerced by other students due to her susceptibility resulting from the defendants' failure to monitor and supervise her as well as other students. It is reported that these incidents not only occurred at McKinley, but also the Hawai'i Center for the Deaf and the Blind and Lanakila, which A.H. also attended. The DOE was fully aware that while at Lanakila, a State of Hawaii adult employee, defendant Doe 1, repeatedly sexually molested A.H. and had other inappropriate contact with her, including providing A.H. with his phone number, making contact with her and attempting to make contact with her after school hours and on weekends. This employee wrote down a schedule for A.H. on a calendar to indicate when he wanted to sexually abuse her."

A.H. eventually told her mother that "bad things" were happening at school, then suffered a mental breakdown and required three months of hospitalization, the mom claims.

In an August 2011 class action complaint, a mother claimed her deaf son was one of as many as 35 students who were sexually abused by a gang who called themselves the "Ringleaders" at the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and Blind.

According to that complaint, as Courthouse News reported at the time: "The Ringleaders coerced students into doing what the Ringleaders wanted by threats of violence and sexual attack, including sodomy and rape."

Students' personal property and clothing were stolen, and a girl became pregnant under the state's watch, according to the class action.

The class action alleged that a school counselor, "Scott O'Neal[,] himself engaged in inappropriate and questionable activities with students at the school, including having them stay with him overnight. Out of malice and an improper purpose, defendants at times concealed and conspired to conceal what was going on an negligently, recklessly, and intentionally failed to take effective action to stop the wrongful activities."

The 2011 complaint was removed to Federal Court, and on Dec. 21, 2012, U.S. District Judge Kevin S.C. Chang presided over a, closed-door settlement conference.

Those attorneys are drafting a settlement agreement.

In the new case, the mother and daughter seek punitive damages for sexual assault and battery and negligence. They are represented by Paul Alston with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and Stanley Levin, with the Levin Education Access Project.

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