Nearly 60 percent of Lahaina students have yet to enroll in classes following a deadly fire that destroyed their school and forced the closure of other public schools in the area. The fire, which occurred on August 8, destroyed King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina and prompted officials to take precautions until the air and water are deemed safe.
As of now, almost 60 percent of the 3,000 public school students in Lahaina have not enrolled in another public school or signed up for remote classes, effectively disappearing from the school system. Families are now desperate to rebuild their school network for both educational and emotional support.
For Aina Kohler, her 12-year-old son Kimo Varona has yet to return to school after their house and belongings were consumed by the fire. Kohler, a firefighter on Maui, is now focused on finding an adequate school program for her son, who had already experienced disruption due to Covid-19 closures.
Some Lahaina families have found temporary refuge with friends, family, or emergency hotels on the island, while others have moved to different parts of Hawaii or even to the mainland. At present, the Hawaii Department of Education has offered two options for Lahaina students: either take the bus to schools elsewhere on Maui or enroll in remote learning programs similar to those during the Covid-19 closures.
However, many Lahaina parents and community members believe the focus should be on reopening the three other public schools in town, ensuring they are safe and accessible. They are concerned about long bus rides and the potential hazards and inefficiencies of the transportation system.
Challenges also persist for teachers and school employees, many of whom have lost their homes in the fire. Michelle DeBaldo, a second-grade special education teacher, has been living in a hotel since the fire destroyed her home and belongings.
While parents and teachers are eager for Lahaina schools to reopen, there are concerns about potential health issues and emotional strain on children attending schools near the site of the devastating fire.
Despite the challenges, the Lahaina community remains resilient and determined to rebuild their school network and provide a sense of normalcy for their children.