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Hawaii News Now: Principal who received disturbing threats says DOE isn’t taking her safety seriously

February 03, 2022

A Hawaii middle school principal targeted with a series of disturbing threats of violence said the state isn’t doing enough to protect her, her family, and others at the school.

Katherine Balatico is the principal at Stevenson Middle School in Honolulu. In June 2020, she began receiving messages from hacked email addresses.

“I kill you ... and kill your child,” the author writes in the emails. The author also threatens to sexually assault Balatico and burn her house down. The emails continued until October 2020.

And then in January 2021, there was a threatening phone call to her private line at work.

“I am going to shoot you right inside of your f***ing head. Right inside of your open mouth, OK?” the person says, with a disguised voice as if using an application.

Balatico waved her security officer into her office to speak to the man, who claimed his name was David.

Honolulu police, with the help of the FBI, have been investigating the threats since 2020. But no one has been arrested and no suspect has been identified.

The state Department of Education provided Balatico and her children ― one in elementary school the other in high school ― with private security as part of a safety plan.

The security officers shadowed them on campus and outside of school, too, for about seven months.

But then last fall, shortly after the school year began, the extra security stopped.

“In September, both my children were dressed and ready to go to school. They had their backpacks on and we got to Waipahu High School only to find that my daughter’s campus security wasn’t there,” Balatico said, adding she wasn’t warned that the security officers were not going to be waiting.

“It’s not fight or flight, it is flight we are going home,” Balatico said.

She has not allowed her kids to return to in-person schooling because she doesn’t feel that it’s safe for them or the other students and staff.

“Hawaii’s campuses are open,” Balatico said, adding she feared the person would stop at nothing to get to them. “In order to get to me or my children, he’d probably have to get through a number of other people.”

After pressing for answers, Balatico received a letter from the state Attorney General’s office. It read that the security detail violated the state constitution because it used public funds for private purposes.

Balatico offered to pay for the security herself, but that was denied by the state.

In a statemen, the Department of Education also told her the security plan was replaced with return-to-campus plans. They wanted everyone back at school.

With COVID protocols, DOE did allow Balatico to choose online only for her children.

“There’s an active threat to the children, in the two schools and there’s a threat to the fellow students there as well as the teachers there, everybody is at risk,” said Balatico’s attorney Scott Kubota.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association is representing her in a grievance filed against the state, saying Balatico only became a victim of threats because of her position as a principal and therefore, the state should provide the extra security.

“It’s not something that arose out of her personal life, this is a threat that came directly because she’s a school principal,” said Randy Perreira, head of HGEA.

DOE pointed out another reason the detail was canceled was because “the last threat/harassment by the perpetrator occurred in January 2021.”

Balatico went on worker’s compensation in the summer, citing the emotional toll. She said she wants to return to the administration but does not feel like her safety is a priority.

“I love being a principal,” Balatico said. “I’ve been told, in my career as an administrator, that being threatened comes with the territory, but this is different.”

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