The students’ parents were not informed of the search, a violation of school policy, the complaint said.

Update: This story has been updated to include comment from the Department of the Attorney General.

Three former female students are alleging that the principal of their public charter high school performed illegal strip searches on them after they had been accused of vaping and smoking on a class field trip in September 2019, according to court documents

The allegations were originally laid out in complaint filed in 2020 when the students were juniors, and were represented by guardians in the court documents. The three plaintiffs who are no longer minors have now chosen to be publicly identified in an updated filing and to speak publicly about the allegations.

During the incident Kapolei Charter School by Goodwill Hawaii principal Wanda Villareal allegedly asked high school juniors Randell Akau, Chevelle Peter and Anuhea Morales Nelson to lift their shirts during the search which occurred four days after the field trip. 

Villareal also grabbed the middle of their bras, forced each student to jump up and down and patted down their “waist, hips and buttocks.”

“It made me feel very uncomfortable. I felt like I was violated,” Akau said Friday. 

One plaintiff said that Villareal ordered her to “pull her pants down to her knees.” 

Vice principal Mailani Gaspar and another teacher were also present during the search, the filing said.

Kapolei Charter School Goodwill lawsuit strip searched campus principal
Kapolei Charter School by Goodwill Hawaii is one of the defendants being sued over allegations that some students had been strip searched on campus by the principal. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

The amended complaint named Villareal, Kapolei Charter School by Goodwill Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Education and the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission as defendants alleging assault, battery, violation of civil rights and a slew of other charges including false imprisonment and conspiracy.

In a response submitted to the 1st Circuit Court, the defendants argued that they had “reasonable grounds” to search the students and that the search was “lawful” and not a “strip search.” 

The Kapolei Charter School and Goodwill Hawaii did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The DOE and the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission referred requests to The Department of the Attorney General.

David Day, Special Assistant to the Attorney General, said the defendants vehemently deny all claims, and “we look forward to presenting our defense at trial.”

After the search the students were told to return to class and each called her parents, according to the complaint. “I went into the bathroom and I called my mom crying,” Akau said.

Akau’s mother, Heidi, said the students’ parents had not been informed about the search. Akau was told that her mother had signed a consent form that allowed for her and her personal belongings to be searched, said Akau. “I was under the impression that my parents knew that this was happening.”

The complaint said that not informing the parents of the search violated “school policy and the law.” 

According to the 2019 Kapolei Charter School Student Conduct and Discipline Policy, searches are permissible if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a student has violated school disciplinary policy, which includes the possession of “drugs, drug paraphernalia, tobacco.”

Kapolei Charter School by Goodwill Hawaii had its state contract renewed for four more years on July 1. More than half of the 161 students enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

The court has scheduled hearings in the case for Tuesday and Wednesday. Jury selection is set for July 17.

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