Handcuffing Of 10-Year-Old A ‘Lost Opportunity’ For Hawaii DOE - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau is a third-year undergraduate at the University of Hawaii Manoa. This piece was written for her Communicology 455 class instructed by Dr. Amy Hubbard. Her undergraduate experiences have gradually developed her passion for the keiki of Hawaii as well as the mental health of her community.


We have seen the vast effects of the pandemic throughout society, especially in education. While it has disrupted our lives, it has also buried the previous problems that we had been facing. The emergence of one of these issues has uncovered deeply troubling roots.

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Last week, we saw the arrest of a 10-year-old girl arise in our news feed, an incident dating back to January 2020. This demonstrates that even without the pandemic, our keiki’s needs in education were not met.

The incident took place at Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu. According to news reports, the girl had “participated in drawing an offensive sketch of another student in response to being bullied.”

After another parent found out, they demanded that the school call the police. Later, it was said that the girl’s “rights were violated when she was detained and questioned without her mom.”

Though she was not the only child involved in the drawing, she was the only child arrested. A possible reason her mother claims was due to her race — she is Black.

The girl also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But while the girl could have been driven by the impulsivity of ADHD and faced discrimination because of her race, it is even more important that we address the emotional turmoil the bullying created and the absence of appropriate coping methods in schools.

‘Multitude Of Factors’

In Hawaii, we believe in the aloha spirit, love for each other, and a sense of welcoming to all. With this pandemic, we also see the need to be safe for the well-being of our ohana.

But just having these values does not mean that Hawaii, known as a place of paradise for many, is a place free of inequality. We have seen proof of just that through the actions tolerated by the Department of Education.

I was disheartened to see that the DOE said nothing in response to the incident, claiming pending or active litigation as of Oct. 21.

I was even more disheartened because my future steers with hopeful determination towards educational psychology, a field that values student inclusivity, educator equality and understanding, and community support.

Queen Liliuokalani Building. Board of Education offices. 16 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Hawaii Department of Education failed to “hear the cry” of a student in need. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

In my time with Project KUALIMA, a professional development opportunity that educates teachers about a prevention-based model found within a Hawaii multi-tiered system of supports, I have learned that there are a multitude of factors that play a role in a keiki’s success.

For example, in the instance of bullying, the students involved are likely to suffer from low academic achievement, challenging behaviors, poor social skills and low self-esteem, the latter two even more prominent for the targeted student.

Unaware of coping strategies, their own developmental needs, and the necessity of academics, our keiki may be struggling with their mental health as much or even more than we are. Thus, it was almost inevitable that the 10-year-old girl would act out in response to bullying.

She is still a child, still learning, still growing. Her moral compass is still developing and her expression for creativity should not be restricted but carefully guided.

This is not about her race, gender, or disability, but about the traditional practices we have set in education. Her expression should be seen as a cry for help for all of the students involved. A cry to be noticed and heard.

But the DOE has failed to hear this cry. This failure demonstrates the lack of consistency and commitment to educational equality and inclusion. In the lack of response, the DOE has failed to provide leadership and recognition of all students.

This was a lost opportunity to provide strength during this pandemic and educate all about the spirit of aloha. Their reactive approach and reliance on punishment was not an appropriate response as we aim towards the implementation of HMTSS.

Overall, they have failed to help us understand why they allowed such actions to happen.

She is still a child, still learning, still growing.

But we should still have hope for our education system, a possible force for good. What can we do to address and prevent such turmoil from happening again?

The American Civil Liberties Union suggests “[adopting] policies [that forbid] staff to call police unless imminent threat of significant harm is presented, [consulting] with a school counselor before calling, [and mandating that] a parent or guardian be present when a minor is being questioned.”

Not only this, but we must also recognize the need to speak up for diversity, inclusivity, and preventive support in the classroom. I believe the DOE can be a beacon of hope and representative of all students.

But with their silence, there is still a lot to cultivate. Let us start by monitoring the consistency of our values so we can establish roots of compassion for all individuals.

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About the Author

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau is a third-year undergraduate at the University of Hawaii Manoa. This piece was written for her Communicology 455 class instructed by Dr. Amy Hubbard. Her undergraduate experiences have gradually developed her passion for the keiki of Hawaii as well as the mental health of her community.


Latest Comments (0)

Who called the police instead of the girl's parents?  That is where this all went wrong.  

Village · 10 months ago

My own two cents on this. Not really knowing all of the details on this case, except for reading the Pryor story regarding this, is that the police should never have been involved. Too often the police take the word of the person calling instead of coming in to the scene impartially. Many people exaggerate and exacerbate situations through their tones and emotions when calling 911. The other cent I have regarding this, is bullying comes from their family model. We need to stop with education being the place where parents just send their kids to get rid of them and hopefully learn some morals and perhaps a few skills. "Morals" need to be taught in the home. Bullying comes from example. So I believe it's not so much the DOE that is the problem, it's the over-reactive and undereducated parents and police officers. That's where the accountability should lay.

Scotty_Poppins · 10 months ago

    Lots of speculation but it’s kind of difficult to say what was going on here. It would be nice if the police had the ability to restrain people with words but this doesn’t always work. That leaves restraining with hands or handcuffs. If the officers had restrained her the entire time using their hands and the girl ended up getting injured, the officers might have ended up getting assault charges filed against them. It would be hard to explain why they didn’t just  use handcuffs like they do with everyone else that is combative. 

Arewethereyet · 10 months ago

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