The school’s governing board said it plans to appeal the decision.

Kamalani Academy, a public charter school in Wahiawa, is expected to permanently shut its doors by the end of June after the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday not to extend the school’s contract for several violations.

It would be the third public charter school in the state’s history to close.

Kamalani Academy, a Na Mea Hawaii Arts Integration School, was built in 2017 with a vision of being an arts-focused alternative to public schools. It serves roughly 150 students in K-8 to about 30 teachers and staff. 

“This was a very difficult decision,” said Cathy Ikeda, who chairs the commission. “In fact, we’ve had several motions die at the table because we couldn’t decide.” 

Kamalani Academy charter school located in Wahiawa. Grade levels are from kindergarten thru 8th grade..
Kamalani Academy charter school located in Wahiawa may have to close by the end of June. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

The school had been on the commission’s radar since 2021 when it issued a Notice of Concern and ordered 183 students struck from the roll because the school had not sought clearance for a new online program.

In its final 231-page report, the commission found that virtual learning program was unauthorized, and documented two dozen complaints from parents who say the school refused to let their children attend other schools and failed to properly maintain students’ records. The commission also said that concern over school governance was another reason for the decision.

The commission’s press release did not cite financial issues as a reason for non-renewal of the Kamalani contract.

Amanda Fung, Kamalani Academy’s principal, said she strongly disagrees with the commission’s finding and that the school’s governing board plans to file an appeal. She noted that the school hasn’t had safety concerns or financial woes. 

“I was disappointed,” Fung said, adding that the commission had sent out the news release without giving the school time to inform the parents.

“Our families are just now finding out,” Fung said.

The school will remain open until June 30. In the appeal process, the commission has 15 days to issue a written decision to the school, while the school has 21 days to file an appeal to the Board of Education.

From there, the board will have to decide whether to hold a public hearing on the appeal or make a decision based on the Charter School Commission report. 

Hawaii has 37 charter schools across the state overseen by the commission. 

But some charter schools have had contentious relationships with the agency that oversees them

Kamalani Academy has about 150 students and 30 teachers and staff. (April Estrellon/Civil Beat/2017)

Due to the mismanagement of funds, the commission previously revoked the contracts of two other charter schools – Halau Lokahi on Oahu and Kau Learning Academy on Big Island

Keoki Kerr, a spokesman for the teachers union, said there’d been a history of longstanding problems at Kamalani Academy. The Hawaii State Teachers Association represents more than 13,000 public school teachers, including charter school educators.

“There’s a lot of turnover and many of our teachers quit and some of them don’t last a month because it’s not been a good place,” Kerr said. 

On Thursday the school emailed a letter to the parents. 

“Let us not lose hope because we feel there are many options available,” the letter reads. “Our legal representation with the Hawaii Attorney General feels we are on strong ground to win our appeal and continue our mission in the community.”

Despite some criticisms, Fung said her school had many achievements, including receiving a Native Hawaiian Education Grant from the federal Department of Education.  

“Our school is not the highest performing school, but we are on an upward trend in our academics,” she said. “We offer a food pantry for our kids whose parents don’t have the means,” Fung said.

Miguel Gonzalez said his 9-year-old son loves attending the school and has made many friends. 

“It’s a really sad situation,” said Gonzalez. 

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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