Hunger may be driving force behind school break ins
A new issue that surfaced during a meeting this week between lawmakers and local officials was that juveniles who had been caught breaking into Tafuna High School were looking “for food items or money to buy food” because they were “hungry”.
The meeting, held Wednesday at the Education Department main office in Utulei, was requested by Tualauta Reps. Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr. and Larry Sanitoa along with Ituau faipule Taotasi Archie Soliai, in order to find solutions to the problem of the recent rash of break ins at Tafuna and Nu’uuli Poly Tech high schools.
Also present at the meeting were officials with the Department of Education — including Dr. Jacinta Galeai — and Public Safety and the Criminal Justice Planning Agency (CJPA) officials.
“The meeting was very fruitful as we discussed the issues of the break-ins and property damage to the two high schools affected,” Tapumanaia said yesterday. He also said that Tafuna principal Lentoy Matagi shared her insight into the incidents at Tafuna.
“She detailed another issue we weren't prepared for — such as students that were caught told them they were just hungry,” said Tapumanaia. “They were looking for food and because the families they come from either treated them bad or they weren’t really a part of the family — an outsider in uncle/aunty’s home — therefore they broke into the schools and were searching for food items or money to buy food.”
Tapumanaia said they took notes and will be contacting the Department of Human and Social Services for their assistance in this matter.
Sanitoa said yesterday that the “main objective” of the meeting was to find out the details of the latest rash of break-ins, the root cause of these break-ins and to brainstorm ideas on solutions for the schools.
“We were informed that several young people responsible for the break ins were apprehended by DPS and are currently awaiting charges pending the outcome of the legal process,” said Sanitoa.
Tapumanaia added that the culprits were familiar with breaking into the schools and possibly homes and businesses, because they came with tools. “They were skilled enough to know what times and which rooms they would target,” he said.
There were also discussions about hiring security guards and possibly using funding from DOE and CJPA to assist with these hirees. Security lights and fixing the fences surrounding the schools, as well as surveillance cameras and alarm systems were other alternatives.
DPS was asked to assist through more frequent patrols and possibly the involvement of aumaga and village leaders to spread the word to villagers of fines and penalties for those who are caught doing these things and belonging to the villages, said Tapumanaia.
“Reps. Taotasi, Sanitoa and myself believe that parents should be given more responsibility and accountability regarding these students who get caught,” said Tapumanaia. “We will look forward to introducing a bill in the upcoming session to deal with truancy and parent accountability.”
“It’s a work in progress and we need everyone involved in these students well being to be more active in their lives... the parents, faifeau, village and schools... everyone working together and helping these kids believe in themselves and their future. We can all make a difference,” said Tapumanaia.
More collaboration is needed between Dept. of Human Social Services, DOE, DPS, other relevant government agencies, faith based organizations as well as government leaders to look at a long term solution, said Sanitoa.
“In the interim, DOE in collaboration with CJPA and DPS will look at implementing immediate measures to provide security to protect the students, faculty and school properties,” said Sanitoa.
Besides Dr. Galeai, others representing DOE at the meeting were Li’a Amisone, Amy Blizzard, Tafuna principal Lentoy Matagi and Nu’uuli Poly Tech principal Saouila Kava. Also present were Criminal Justice Deputy Director Leonard Seumanutafa and Capt. Vai Maiava of DPS as well as president of the Tafuna High School PTA, Vui Robert Tuala.