The Hawaii Department of Education is planning to beef up the number of investigators tasked with reviewing cases of employee misconduct later this month, one of several initiatives aimed at streamlining a process that can currently drag on for up to a year.
The DOE’s Office of Human Resources has had to decline requests by schools to investigate complaints in recent months because it doesn’t have enough staff, Assistant Superintendent Barbara Krieg said. The complaints still get investigated, but by investigators outside of the DOE, which is more expensive, Krieg said.
There are currently 43 DOE employees on paid leave pending the resolution of cases ranging from “hostile work environment” complaints to accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with a student. That’s an improvement from last December, when 63 employees were on paid leave, but the investigation process still needs to be more timely, Board of Education members said at their meeting Tuesday.
“Either the person is innocent and we’ve soiled their reputation and we need to correct that, or the person is guilty and they’ve been getting paid for months,” BOE member Don Horner said in support of implementing deadlines for completing investigations.
The OHR — which is just one of several DOE departments that investigate teachers and staff accused of misconduct — currently employs three investigators, and hopes to hire two additional temporary investigators, Krieg told the Board of Education on Tuesday.
The decision of whether an incident or a complaint against an employee merits a formal investigation is usually made by school principals, who then submit a recommendation to their complex area superintendent as to whether that employee should be placed on leave while the investigation is completed, Krieg said.
Many cases are investigated by vice principals, while others are assigned to the OHR or a handful of complex area employees whose job description includes reviewing employee conduct. Cases that involve issues like race or sexual harassment are investigated by the DOE’s Civil Rights Compliance Office.
Not all employees under investigation are placed on “Department Directed Leave” or “Leave Pending Investigation,” Krieg said. Employees are put on leave when the investigation might be compromised if they remain at work, or if the accusation involves student safety.
Of the 43 employees currently on paid leave, 28 are teachers. Information about the length of the leaves was not included in the presentation, but at least one investigation has been open for a year, Krieg said.
Some cases are held up because of scheduling difficulties with interviewing witnesses, others are in the decision-making process after the investigation report is finished, Krieg said.
The BOE asked Krieg to return next month with a plan for setting deadlines for when an investigation should be completed.
The OHR is also in the process of creating a manual to guide school staff in making decisions in these cases, and has trained hundreds of vice principals and employees in how to conduct investigations in the last year, Krieg said.
Krieg said her office is consulting with the Hawaii Government Employees Association about the procedures in the manual, which is not currently posted anywhere for the public to view.
If the document is being used to guide decisions, it should be posted online, BOE Vice Chair Brian De Lima said.