Teachers in the affected schools are frustrated at the lack of communication from the DOE, its board heard Thursday.

Employees of the four fire-affected schools in the Lahainaluna complex will meet at an offsite location Monday and Tuesday to begin their transition back to work.

There is however no clear timetable for when the four schools in Lahaina will be reopened.

Lahainaluna High School teacher Ashley Olson testified during Thursday’s Board of Education General Business Meeting that information was being dribbled out two to three days at a time. She recalled the Hawaii DOE sent out their first email to people who had “no internet, no computer, no home.”

“Sending HTML emails to people who had no way to access them was a prime example of cluelessness,” Olson said.

The DOE said all 327 staff from the four West Maui schools have been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 8, but teachers remain frustrated and lost, testimony reveals.

Photos of wind and debris damage to school buildings in the Lahaina area. Not shown is the heavily damaged King Kamehameha III Elementary. (Provided: Hawaii DOE)

Lahainaluna High teacher Victoria Zupancic testified to the board that she doesn’t know what the DOE is doing to help the teachers. “You’re not helping us, you’re adding to our stress,” she said.

“No one from state offices have asked these educators who lost their homes if they’re ready, no one has asked them if they’re okay,” Zupancic said. “No one has asked if we’re prepared to drive through Lahaina daily watching the number of crosses grow on the road. No one has asked if they need bereavement time because their families have died.”

Superintendent Keith Hayashi said that the situation remains very dynamic and they are trying to make the best decisions they can with the information they have. 

Hayashi said that the department will be providing affected staff with “access to OTM representatives, mental health training and services and will be having discussions about how we can all move forward together,” at a Maui location Aug. 28 and Aug. 29.

The DOE will also work with Lahaina principals to organize community meetings in West Maui and Central Maui on Aug. 30 to “hear from families and community members,” Hayashi said. 

The Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui Jr. said he hopes that DOE officials will go into the meetings with open minds and ears.

The Lahaina community has expressed that they are not being seen and their voices aren’t being heard, he said.

“Decisions are being made for them, not with them,” Tui said. “It’s not a community meeting if the community is not involved.”

Lahaina Intermediate School remains untouched Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina. A large fire consumed areas of West Maui last week. Utilities have not been fully restored.  (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Lahaina Intermediate School was relatively untouched by the fire but a reopening date has not been determined. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

King Kamehameha III Elementary remains closed due to major structural damage from the Aug. 8 fire. Princess Nahienaena Elementary, Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High are undergoing safety and environmental assessments and are having the internet reconnected. 

The department is also in the process of evaluating options for the temporary relocation of King Kamehameha III Elementary and scouting alternate locations if reopenings are further delayed.

Prior to the wildfires, there were a total of 3,001 students enrolled in the Lahainaluna Complex. As of Aug. 21, 538 of them have re-enrolled in other public schools, 438 have enrolled in the State Distance Learning Program, English and Hawaiian language immersion, Hayashi’s report said. 

The remaining 2,025 students have not re-enrolled in any other public school in the state or opted for distance learning, although it is unclear if all of those students have been accounted for.

The DOE has responded to more than 80 media inquiries and has also routed the four Lahaina schools phone lines to a centralized voice message system that is being checked regularly since the fires broke out, Hayashi said.

The support hotline that was launched Monday has received 150 calls and the department has not missed a call. “You have my commitment that the department will do everything to support you,” Hayashi said.

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

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