Some Maui schools were closed for long periods after the disaster, and education officials want to help students recover emotionally and academically.

Some Maui students will miss nearly a third of the 2023-24 academic year due to school closures following the Aug. 8 wildfires.

Typically, public schools in Hawaii must include at least 180 days of classes each year. The Department of Education asked the Board of Education on Thursday to waive that minimum this year for all Maui schools except for Hana High and Elementary.

The request is part of efforts to help students on the Valley Isle recover emotionally and academically after the tragic start to the school year.

“Every school in Maui, except for Hana, was closed for some number of days because of the disaster,” deputy superintendent Tammi Oyadomari-Chun said at the meeting.

Elementary school students return to a Lahaina campus Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. Princess Nahienaena Elementary School opened their campus for King Kamehameha III Elementary School to place temporary classrooms. The schools have been closed since the Aug. 8 fire and studying at other schools in Maui. King Kamehameha III Elementary School was destroyed in the blaze. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Many King Kamehameha III Elementary students have attended classes in temporary tent structures located on Princess Nahienaena Elementary’s campus since mid-October. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

The number of days schools will have been open this year range from 174 to 126, with the Lahaina campuses hardest hit. The board is expected to issue a decision on the waiver later this month.

Students enrolled at King Kamehameha III Elementary, which was burned beyond repair, are projected to lose almost 30% of their school year. Those students began attending classes on Princess Nahienaena Elementary’s campus in mid-October. 

“While not perfect, it’s been a good environment for our students,” deputy superintendent Curt Otaguro said during Thursday’s meeting.

King Kamehameha III students will miss an additional three days of classes next month as teachers and administrators transition to a temporary school being built in the Pulelehua project, between Kaanapali and Napili. King Kamehameha III’s temporary campus will open to students on April 1.

Plans for summer school will also be a key factor in helping the Maui students recover, Oyadomari-Chun said. The department will offer summer school free of cost to all Hawaii students this year as it uses the last of federal Covid relief funds that will expire in the fall.

Maui schools, meanwhile, will continue to prioritize children’s mental health and screen students for fire-related trauma for the rest of the year, Kimberly Lessard, Maui’s district educational specialist, told the board.

School counselors on Maui now offer group therapy to students, Lessard said, and the department plans to introduce staff training on identifying signs of suicide risk among students.

“We certainly have a lot more to do,” Lessard said. 

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

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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