DOE sued over photos of student’s genitalia


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The mother of a special education student at Mountain View Elementary School has filed suit against the state Department of Education, alleging that employees took inappropriate photographs of her daughter’s genitalia.

Attorney Michael Jay Green filed the suit in Hilo Circuit Court on Jan. 31. It identifies the plaintiffs, the mother and her 6-year-old daughter, by their initials.

The suit claims that teachers initially noticed a redness in the girl’s private area while they were changing her diaper, and were concerned that she may have been the victim of a sexual assault.

But, said Green in a telephone interview from his Honolulu office on Friday afternoon, the teachers, the principal and a health aide took things too far when they photographed the girl’s privates as they investigated the issue.

“When you see the pictures of the child, it’s actually shocking,” Green said. “You see a pair of hands with gloves, holding the vagina and legs completely apart. … They should have called the mother, and questioned her about it. You don’t just take the kid in some office and spread her legs … and take a picture. That’s outrageous.”

In addition to the DOE, the suit names as defendants Principal Barbara Riley, teacher Maria-Elena Hill, health aide Dellyn Gomes and educational aide Leila Castro.

Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of communications for the DOE, said Friday afternoon that she would not be able to provide any comment on the suit.

“In cases like this, we just don’t comment. … It’s an issue involving a juvenile,” she said. “There isn’t anything we can say because of the age.”

Maria Carmichael, an attorney who initially took the mother’s complaint and filed the lawsuit for Green, said she was first contacted by the mother in November concerning the April 2011 incident.

“She said that her daughter was in kindergarten and not quite potty-trained. When the teacher went to change the diaper, she said ‘Owie, it hurts.’ She was talking about her genital area,” Carmichael said. “The teacher and an aide both looked at the child and decided there was something wrong. They took her to the principal and she examined her, then they took her to the health aide. … And they took multiple photographs. … It was my understanding they took two … and they turned them over to the Department of Human Services Social Services Division.”

Carmichael said that school officials believed that the girl may have been the victim of a sexual assault, and avoided telling the girl’s mother the full extent of the situation, including a detailed description of the photos taken.

“The first time she saw the photos was when she took the girl to her pediatrician, and the doctor had the photos. … She was absolutely horrified. … This was a completely inappropriate way to deal with this.”

Carmichael said that after seeing the photos, the mother transferred the girl to another school. Now, the mother is filing suit in the hopes of calling attention to what she believes was an inappropriate way to handle the situation.

“It’s definitely not about money,” Carmichael said. “It’s the principle. You can’t treat kids like this and not have any type of consequences happen. She’s just been so upset. The mother and her daughter. The whole family has been impacted by this. She just wants the school system to be more careful and reasonable about possible child abuse situations. … I understand that school officials are concerned about the safety and well-being of the students, but at a certain point you need to step back and say, ‘Hey, we’re going way overboard on this.’”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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