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Star Advertiser: Death threats target principal of Hawaii middle school

February 07, 2022

The principal of Stevenson Middle School says she has received terrifying threats of violence and death against her and her children but that the state Education Department is failing to do enough to keep her, her children and their schools safe.

The state argues that continuing to provide Katherine Balatico and her children with round-the-clock security would be an improper use of public funds.

The threats that Balatico has received include “a variety of graphic details/attachments of theft, hurting, raping, burning, torturing and killing the grievant, her children, and burning down her home,” says a grievance filed on her behalf by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

In an interview with The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Balatico said the emails included grisly details, and images of pornography and a man holding a gun, and the male voice in the phone call described in profanity-laced detail how he would shoot her to death.

The threats came via a social media post in May 2020; emails in October and December 2020; and an anonymous phone call to a private, unpublished landline in her school office in January 2021, according to the “step 2” grievance filed Dec. 21 by the union, which represents principals.

Balatico says the DOE initially provided a security detail for her and her children, plus a safety plan that was reviewed every two weeks.

However, when they were abruptly ended without notice after a few months, she said, she felt betrayed by the department that she has served for 21 years.

In a 2021 letter to DOE leadership, Balatico said she wrote, “‘Please help me. I’m willing to work with you guys. I don’t want to be Hawaii’s first Parkland shooting.’ It fell on deaf ears.”

Following each threat, Balatico filed police reports and requests for temporary restraining orders, and notified officials in the Education Department, the grievance says. She has also filed Title IX complaints because of the sexual nature of some threats.

The DOE ‘s safety plan from March 2021 included providing a personal security detail for Balatico and her two children, who are in high school and elementary school. The document read, “This plan should be in effect as the Department awaits the outcome of the ongoing HPD investigation to include the subsequent identification, arrest, and prosecution of the suspect(s).”

While no arrests or suspects have emerged from investigations by the Honolulu Police Department and FBI, biweekly updates to Balatico’s safety plan ceased in August, the grievance said, and in September the security detail was halted for her and her children, all without advance explanation.

A few days later Balatico and the union were informed by state Deputy Attorney General James Halvorson that the security detail was stopped because using public funds for private purposes is a violation of the Hawaii Constitution, and that when Balatico returns to work from workers’ compensation leave, “a safety plan will be developed to provide her with a safe work environment.”

Balatico argues that the threats should be considered a state matter because the emails and call came via school channels, and an attack on her or her children’s campuses would put other students and staff at risk.

A request from Balatico’s attorney to have the department reinstate the security detail for the children, and a demand by the union for a meeting with the DOE, have gone unanswered, the grievance says.

In response to questions about why the DOE stopped the security detail for Balatico and her children, DOE Communications Director Nanea Kalani said in an email that the department initially “provided security and safety measures at work/school that were beyond its responsibility at the home and after work/school hours. Law enforcement was informed and requested to investigate, which, to our knowledge, is still ongoing.”

Kalani reiterated Halvorson’s objection to using public funds for private purpose, and added, “The last threat/harassment by the perpetrator occurred in January 2021. The security plan was replaced with return­-to-campus plans. The department’s responsibility is to provide supervision to its employees and students during work and school hours.”

Balatico has been on workers’ compensation leave since July due to stress, but she says she wants to resume working if provided with security. “I want to feel safe at my job,” she said.

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