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STAR ADVERTISER: Principal must be reinstated at Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind, arbitrator says

February 26, 2022

A state arbitrator has ordered that Angel Ramos, a former principal of the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind, must be reinstated to his job after having been demoted and transferred away in 2019 by the state Department of Education.

The decision by the arbitrator with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board also says Ramos’ demotion to vice principal must be rescinded and expunged from his personnel record, and he must be awarded lost pay and benefits.

The reinstatement of Ramos, who is deaf, to lead the DOE’s only public school exclusively serving deaf and blind students is being hailed by many in the deaf community as a victory for a segment of the population they feel has been largely underserved and misunderstood throughout history.

“For ages deaf people in Hawaii have been oppressed,” Ramos said Friday in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Now there is hope again in the deaf community. … We need to make sure that the school is managed by, and decisions made by, individuals who are experts in deaf education.”

Ramos said he was not permitted to share the full document containing the decision by the arbitrator, Theodore I. Sakai, which includes details of the case.

However, the award portion of the decision that Ramos could share says the grievance filed by the Hawaii Government Employees Association was “sustained in part and denied in part” and that there had been an “egregious” violation of the employment contract and DOE rules.

Ramos said he learned Friday of the arbitrator’s decision, and believes he will return to the job next week. He said he hopes the outcome encourages any educator who feels they can’t speak up against a wrong.

Following a request for a response, DOE Communications Director Nanea Kalani said Friday, “The department is in receipt of the arbitrator’s report and is reviewing and discussing next steps. We cannot discuss further details of this personnel matter at this time.”

The Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind is an American Sign Language- English bilingual school on Leahi Avenue in Kapahulu with 58 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the DOE website.

Ramos, a Fulbright scholar with more than 40 years’ experience in deaf education, was principal of the school starting in July 2016. Under his leadership the school was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for the first time in its history. He received satisfactory ratings in his first two years there, he said.

But in 2019 he received a rating of “marginal” and was abruptly demoted to vice principal and moved to a different school. A nondeaf administrator who did not know American Sign Language was brought in at that time to head the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Members of the deaf community at the time picketed in protest, asserting that the school needs a deaf principal like Ramos who understands deaf academics and deaf culture, and the union filed the grievance that led to the arbitration.

For two years, bills at the state Legislature have proposed establishing a board of trustees who have expertise in deaf education and American Sign Language to independently govern the public school, but they have not passed.

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