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DOE employee found guilty of assaulting student

A school bus driver with the Department of Education, Ioane Atanoa will be sentenced on August 16, 2012 following a guilty verdict rendered by District Court Judge Elvis Patea last week. Atanoa was found guilty of third degree Assault for hitting a 12- year old female student in the face while he was dropping her off from school.

Assistant Attorney General Blake Hanley told Samoa News they have been receiving information concerning this bus driver using physical force against other students.

Informing the court this was not the first incident of its kind, Assistant AG Blake said, “There was another DOE bus driver that pled guilty to striking a student just a few weeks ago.”

The defendant and his supervisor, Lavinia Finau-Levaula, the Program Manager for Transportation Division with DOE, testified during the bench trial. The supervisor told the court that the girl was breaking the rules by playing.

Blake noted that the supervisor was not on the bus at the time of the incident.

During cross examination, Blake asked the DOE supervisor “where in the rules does it forbid playing on the school bus?” The supervisor did not answer.

The prosecutor also asked the supervisor “what 12- year old doesn't like to play?”

Assistant AG Blake then asked “where in the rules or in any polices or procedures of DOE does it authorize a bus driver to use physical force against students?” The supervisor again responded with silence, and the court stated that given the witness’ silence, they’re taking that as her answer.

Blake said it was also revealed in testimony that this girl was banned from riding the school bus for two weeks.

The prosecutor asked the supervisor, “How is the girl to get to and from school, which is far from her home? The supervisor, once again, did not respond to the question.

Assistant AG Blake, responding to Samoa News queries said “I'm not an administrator nor am I a policy maker, but the way these types of situations are being handled is screaming for reform.”

He stated, “The use of physical violence against school children ought to be re-examined. First, it’s illegal, and second — what are we teaching the children of American Samoa by hitting them in the face in the presence of other children?”

The defendant was represented by the Public Defender’s office.