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‘Grossly Negligent’: Black Disabled Student ‘Singled Out’ By Police and Arrested, While Her Mother Was Detained Over Drawing of a Bully at a Hawaii Elementary School

The wrongful arrest of a disabled 10-year-old Black girl and unlawful detainment of her mother has become the catalyst behind demands for school-level change in Hawaii.

At the helm of the demands is the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims the mother, Tamara Taylor, and her daughter were both traumatized by an incident that occurred last year at Honowai Elementary. 

Honowai Elementary School (Photo: KHON 2 News)

On Jan. 10, 2020, Taylor and the ACLU alleged her daughter — who is diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — was “singled out” by school police for drawing an offensive sketch in retaliation to a non-Black student that was bullying her.

While the ACLU argues that drawing is an outlet utilized in the student’s treatment and in therapy for ADHD, none of that was taken into consideration when school officials removed her from class to be interrogated by police.

Taylor said she was notified of the incident and immediately made her way to the school. There she spoke with school officials and officers in a separate part of the building, all the while assuming her child had remained in class.

Taylor was informed that the parent of the other student had requested police be called and was considering pressing charges. When Taylor asked if mediation would be possible, school officials seemingly sided with the other child’s parent.

At that point, she was made aware that her child was no longer in class, and instead being held in a “cold” room with officers who had handcuffed her. Taylor’s request to be reunited with her child during the questioning was denied.

“DOE [Department of Education] was grossly negligent in not taking reasonable steps to prevent such absurd affect, while also taking extraordinary and offensive steps to prevent Ms. Taylor from protecting — or even speaking with — her own child,” the ACLU wrote. 

In the end, Taylor was forced to stand by in horror as her handcuffed daughter was transported by police to the station. She was also suspended from school.

All are actions the ACLU has expressed prove the agencies involved acted negligently in handling the incident, as well as show a discrepancy in the punishments disabled students face.

According to ACLU, “This is consistent with how DOE treats other disabled students involved, as such students are at least twice as likely to be suspended and referred to law enforcement by DOE than non-disabled students are.”

It was later determined that Taylor’s daughter was not the sole student responsible for the drawing, though no others were brought into question.Taylor later relocated her daughter to the mainland to attend school with family while she stayed behind for a job with the Department of Defense.

ACLU has pointed to race as a motivating factor in the mishandling of Taylor and her daughter.

“Ms. Taylor and N.B. were singled out because of their race, both perceived and treated as “more dangerous,” less rational, and less worthy of respect for their rights than the non-Black students and parents involved.”

School officials even confirmed they saw “the fire” inside Taylor’s eyes and feared her acting out as an “angry Black woman.”

Among the demands for change laid out by the ACLU and Taylor are:

  • DOE adopt policies forbidding staff to call the police on student unless the student presents an imminent threat or significant harm to someone
  • Generally allowing parents or legal guardians access to their children while on school property
  • City and State expunge all records related to the arrest of N.B and pay $500,000 in damages to Ms. Taylor and N.B. for the harm and suffering caused by DOE staff and HPD officers

The DOE and Honolulu police have been given until Nov. 8 to respond to the demands. Subsequent details of actions to be taken after that date were not shared.

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