School campuses in the town will likely not reopen until after fall break.

Families from Lahaina used a public meeting in Napili Wednesday to vent their frustration with the Hawaii Department of Education over communication since the Aug. 8 fire that damaged one school and closed three.

Parents and students lined up, spoke up from their seats, interrupted one another and drilled down for answers from Superintendent Keith Hayashi.

Many expressed disappointment over a perceived lack of engagement by the DOE with families and voiced concerns over mental health, learning loss, student relocation and the timing for reopening school campuses.

Parents aired their frustrations with the DOE during a contentious public meeting Wednesday morning in Napili. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)
Lahaina resident and mother, Leilani Keliikipi, is a two-time Maui fire survivor. She expressed disappointment with the DOE’s lack of communication and attention to community input. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

“I want answers,” Leilani Keliikipi, a Lahaina parent, said. “You are superintendent. Are you not? So what is your power? What are you going to do for us?”

“Please give us some grace, we are really trying,” Hayashi said. “We hear your concerns and we’ll do our best to move that forward.”

While the timetable is yet to be confirmed, students from the four Lahaina public schools will be temporarily assigned to Kihei, Hayashi said at the meeting.

Students from King Kamehameha III Elementary and Princess Nahienaena Elementary will be temporarily assigned to either Wailuku Elementary or Kamalii Elementary. Lahaina Intermediate students will be temporarily assigned to Lokelani Intermediate.

Lahainaluna High will temporarily function within Kulanihakoi High. 

Hayashi said that they hope to get Lahaina students “back in school after fall break,” which falls around mid-October.

Hayashi said that it will take a while before the Lahaina schools are safe because the process of soil sampling and assessment takes several weeks to complete.

Parents like Keliikipi countered that such processes should have taken place right after the fire to avoid wasting time. 

She proposed several solutions for the schools that were untouched including using water buffaloes to address water quality issues and installing air purifiers.

Keliikipi, who also lived through the 2018 Lahaina fire, said that nothing was done then and nothing is being done now.

Rachel Townsend’s son is a fourth grade student at King Kamehameha III Elementary with special needs. She has temporarily enrolled him at Kamalii Elementary School in Kihei so that he can access his services for learning disabilities.

“We just want a safe, healthy environment that was promised by the department as a part of their mission statement,” Townsend said. 

Parents at the meeting criticized a proposed bus system that would see drivers and support personnel bus students to Central or South Maui and bring them back to West Maui at the end of the school day. 

Community members said they wanted input from students as part of planning efforts, and a portal has been established by the DOE to gather comments. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

Keliikipi said the DOE needs to listen to the parents and take their input into serious consideration. “Transportation going on the other side, whose idea was it to do that? None of the parents here,” she said.

Parents said they wanted assurances that those bus routes, if implemented, would avoid going through fire-affected areas that might retraumatize students.

However, Lahainaluna High senior Tania David said she wouldn’t mind taking the bus to pursue education.

She lost her house to the fire and is currently staying at Honua Kai Resort & Spa. “It’s my senior year and I want to get my degree.” David said she would be content with just being provided with the transportation needed to and from school.

Hayashi said, “We’re definitely committed to doing the best we can to address the needs of our students.”

Rep. Justin Woodson, who was at the meeting, said afterwards it is “important to listen and to see how we can integrate the community better into solutions,” to meet short, immediate or long-term goals.

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

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