HONOLULU (AP) — A high school on Hawaii’s Big Island was temporarily closed after officials say racial tension and multiple fights this week culminated in a brawl involving 20 to 30 students, with eight arrests.
Police and state education officials said Kealakehe High School in Kailua-Kona was closed Friday as teachers and administrators figured out how to get control of problems with students as they begin finals next week.
Nobody was seriously hurt in a Thursday fight that led to a campus lockdown at the school of 1,600 students, Hawaii County police said. Police said eight students – seven boys and a girl – were arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and released.
The school’s principal, Wilfred Murakami, said the fights resulted from ongoing “bullying through racial and cultural taunts.”
“The result overflowed on the Micronesian side where there was frustration, yelling and screaming – a reaction,” Murakami told West Hawaii Today (http://goo.gl/4r3GT ). He didn’t immediately return calls and email seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Hawaii Department of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz noted no one was seriously hurt but said there had been concerns about “social issues” at the school.
“Kids are taunting each other. Some resulted in physical altercations,” Dela Cruz said. “Not many – no major injuries – but enough where it’s caused disruption for the last two days.”
Dela Cruz said a smaller fight on Wednesday prompted another campus lockdown, where students were told to go back inside classrooms and stay there.
Immigrants from the Federated States of Micronesia are a small but fast-growing group in Hawaii as a result of a 1986 pact that allows citizens from three Pacific Island nations to come to the United States in exchange for allowing the U.S. to use defense sites.
School officials are not just concerned about fighting, but posturing and students anticipating fights.
“People gather to watch and that needs to stop,” she said.
Kailua-Kona, on the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island, is known for fishing tournaments and hosting the yearly Ironman World Championship triathlon.
According to U.S. Census data, 17.5 percent of its nearly 12,000 residents were born outside the United States, with one-quarter of families speaking a language other than English at home. The median household income as of 2011 was less than $61,000, with 10.5 percent of people living below poverty levels.
Immigration from the Federated States of Micronesia, along with the Republic of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands has been a source of tension for some residents in Hawaii, the closest U.S. state to the Pacific islands.
In the 2010 fiscal year, Hawaii spent more than $52 million on health care, welfare, public housing and homeless support for more than 17,000 migrants from the compact. In addition, education costs were more than $55 million.