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Tensions simmer as classes resume at Kealakehe

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Dec 11 2012 09:54:26 AM HST

Extra security and extra concerns as Kealakehe High School reopened Monday.

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -

Extra security guards, police and even clergy from local churches were on hand Monday to try and diffuse tensions as Kealakehe High School students went back to class.

Students and teachers had a 3-day weekend to cool off.  The chaos peaked last week when a series of on-campus fights led to eight arrests.

The school was closed on Friday.  The new week brings a new perspective on what could be simmering tensions.

"It was more the local population making comments about Micronesians," said Kealakehe High School Principal Wilfred Murakami.

About a half dozen Big Island patrol officers were ready to respond throughout the day.  The head of the Department of Education's security office flew in from Honolulu with additional support.

"It's primarily for visibility.  We are not expecting anything dangerous to happen today.  It should be a peaceful day," said DOE Security Director Mark Behrens.

Micronesian students made an appeal to wear white on Monday as an appeal for peace.  Peace was in short supply the last time they were on campus.

"There was a lot of emotion.  A lot of noise, yelling, shouting, and swearing," said Murakami.  "And the next thing we know there's multiple people and there were two or three fight that did erupt.  We couldn't separate the parties because there was so much crowding.  As a result of that, I decided the tension on the campus would only continue on Friday."

On Monday, students were on a modified schedule which meant a shortened lunch break, keeping most of the 1,400 students indoors.

Then came a stern warning -- delete any harassing or racist posts on social media or face additional sanctions.

A Kealakehe graduate says it's all a shame.

"It bums me out to see that things still going on.  It was going on when I went to school," said Cyrus Widhalm, a 2007 Kealakehe graduate.  "Sometimes it's not always a racial thing.  Sometimes it was the football guys against the basketball guys."

School officials say they will use the incident as an opportunity to talk to the community at-large to ease tensions as Micronesians are singled out as the latest immigrant group competing for local jobs, housing and social programs.

School officials plan to hold on-campus forums that may tap the mayor's office and Big Island police.  But, it's unlikely those forums will start until those students on crisis suspension return to campus later this week.

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