Compared to two years ago, the Hawaii Department of Education has fewer cases of employee misconduct to investigate.

In December 2014, there were 63 cases pending in which DOE employees had been placed on paid leave while being investigated for allegations of misbehavior such as having inappropriate sexual relations with a student, misusing funds and violating the department’s drug and alcohol policy.

As of Jan. 1, there were 32 pending cases, Barbara Krieg, assistant superintendent for the DOE Office of Human Resources, told the Board of Education Human Resources Committee at its meeting Tuesday.

Board of Education Margaret Cox. 10 jan 2017

Board of Education member Margaret Cox said at Tuesday’s meeting that it should be clear what behaviors are appropriate for DOE employees.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The statistic came from her quarterly update on the number of cases of DOE employees on Department-Directed Leave and Leave Pending Investigation.

Committee members and a community member said they want to see more done to avoid the cases in the first place.

“One thing that happens an awful lot is inappropriate conduct toward students, and I really want to know what keeps happening so that there’s inappropriate conduct toward our students,” said Vanessa Ott, a former schoolteacher.

Cases are opened when there are allegations of extreme employee misconduct, such as hitting a student. Once investigated, they go through three levels of due process, with decision-making by the principal, complex area superintendent and state superintendent.

Employees under investigation are placed on paid leave when there’s a concern about them remaining at the school or office they work at.

The department has over 22,000 permanent employees, Krieg said, and with only 32 pending cases, she doesn’t think the department has a disproportionately large problem with employee misconduct.

“We will always have, in any population of that size, a natural number of people who don’t behave the way they should,” she said at the meeting.

Of the 32 cases, most are at the school level, but Krieg said she has not seen a pattern of specific complex areas or schools having large numbers of cases.

Nineteen pending cases involve teachers who were accused of behaving inappropriately toward students, having inappropriate sexual relations with a student or creating a hostile work environment — or had been arrested. When an employee is arrested, the DOE analyzes whether or not internal action should also be taken, Krieg said.

Committee member Margaret Cox said it needs to be clear to DOE employees statewide that certain behavior is not acceptable.

“I’m going to assume that it’s very clear across the board that nobody is supposed to hit kids or shove kids or choke them or any of those kinds of things,” Cox said.

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