Schools Adjacent to Maui Wildfire Zone Prepare to Reopen, Prompting Parental Debate on Children’s Safety

by Andrew Wright
Maui Wildfire Schools Reopening

Students assemble at makeshift desks on a church patio, located several miles from the site of their incinerated school. Freshly-delivered textbooks sit in plastic containers, and children play during recess on the neighboring resort’s golf course.

The devastating wildfire that razed the historic town of Lahaina in Maui earlier this summer dislocated numerous students, compelling families and educational authorities to devise alternative learning solutions.

More than two months have elapsed since the wildfire of August 8, which claimed at least 98 lives. This week marks the reopening of the three surviving public schools, presenting a critical juncture for the afflicted students and their families. They now face the dilemma of whether to return to their original schools or to continue at the alternative educational institutions that have accommodated them.

Despite assurances from educational authorities about the safety of the campuses, some parents remain hesitant, citing concerns about residual toxins from the fire.

Cailee Cuaresma, a sophomore at Lahainaluna High School, expressed her enthusiasm about returning. “It fills me with optimism and gratitude that our school is still intact,” she said. Over the last month, Cuaresma has been attending classes at the provisional campus of Sacred Hearts School, a Catholic establishment founded in 1862 that also suffered significant fire damage.

Schools like Sacred Hearts have offered sanctuary to dislocated public school students, including Cuaresma, providing a year of tuition-free education. Other students have had to travel significant distances or have resorted to online learning as an alternative.

In light of the present circumstances, schools have had to be resourceful. For instance, students attending classes at the temporary Sacred Hearts site are frequently relocated to shaded areas to protect them from the intense Lahaina sun. Tonata Lolesio, the Principal of Sacred Hearts, informed the student body that it could be up to two years before they could return to a completely rebuilt campus.

Class scheduling has also had to be adapted to the constraints of space, and preparations are underway to erect tents to facilitate daily attendance for younger students.

One school in Lahaina, King Kamehameha III Elementary, was completely destroyed by the fire. Students from this school will be integrated into Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary, another school that was temporarily closed for post-fire cleaning. Despite being located near heaps of potentially hazardous ash, officials assert that air quality assessments validate the decision to reopen these schools.

Some parents, however, remain skeptical. Tiffany Teruya, whose son Puʻuwai Nahoʻoikaika is an eighth-grader at Lahaina Intermediate, said her son will not return to the school. Similarly, Debbie Tau intends to continue driving her children to schools in Kihei, as she harbors fears about air quality and potential long-term health risks.

In some cases, the experience has led families to reevaluate their educational choices altogether. Patrick Williams, for example, has decided that his son will remain at Sacred Hearts, despite the financial challenges this will entail.

Teachers, too, are adapting their approaches to connect with students impacted by the disaster. At Maui Preparatory Academy, Gabby Suzik, a science and math teacher, said she often reaches out to her Lahainaluna High students who have lost their homes, as she herself is a victim of the fire.

During a lesson on Hawaiian culture at Sacred Hearts, teacher Charlene Ako sought to engage third-graders by presenting them with an image of Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena adorned with a feathered lei, symbolic of Hawaii’s past monarchy. Nine-year-old Maile Asuncion, whose family has also been significantly impacted by the fire, participated by drawing a native Hawaiian bird, adding yet another layer to the complex emotional landscape that these students navigate daily.

For many, the path forward is uncertain, fraught with both logistical and emotional challenges. Yet, the community finds itself at a significant crossroads, one that could shape educational decisions and familial choices for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Maui Wildfire Schools Reopening

What happened to the schools in the Maui wildfire?

The wildfire that devastated the historic town of Lahaina in Maui led to the destruction and closure of multiple schools. Students were dislocated, compelling educational authorities and families to find alternative schooling options.

When are the surviving schools set to reopen?

More than two months after the wildfire, which occurred on August 8 and claimed at least 98 lives, the three public schools that survived are slated to reopen this week.

What are the concerns of parents about sending their children back to these schools?

Some parents are hesitant to send their children back to the surviving schools due to fears about residual toxins from the fire, despite assurances from educational officials that the campuses are safe.

How have alternative educational institutions accommodated the displaced students?

Schools like Sacred Hearts offered tuition-free education for a year to displaced public school students. Other students have had to resort to online learning or travel considerable distances to attend public schools on the other side of Maui.

Are there plans to rebuild the schools that were destroyed?

The Principal of Sacred Hearts, Tonata Lolesio, informed the student body that it could take up to two years before they could return to a completely rebuilt campus. Information about other destroyed schools was not provided.

What measures are being taken to ensure student safety upon return?

Educational authorities assert that air quality assessments validate the decision to reopen the surviving schools. In addition, preparations are being made to accommodate the educational needs of students, such as erecting tents for younger children to attend school daily.

How have teachers adapted to the new circumstances?

Teachers have modified their teaching methods to connect with the displaced students. For example, at Maui Preparatory Academy, science and math teacher Gabby Suzik often reaches out to students who have lost their homes to offer support.

What long-term impacts could this have on educational choices for families?

The experience has led some families to reconsider their educational options. Some students who have joined private schools during the crisis intend to stay, despite the financial strain it may entail.

What challenges are students facing in their temporary educational settings?

In temporary settings like the campus of Sacred Hearts, students have had to adapt to various changes, including being moved between pockets of shade to protect them from the sun and attending classes on staggered days due to space limitations.

What is being done to address the emotional well-being of students?

Various schools have undertaken initiatives to cater to the emotional needs of students. For instance, at Sacred Hearts, a comfort dog has been brought in to help ease the emotional burden on the students. Teachers are also trying to connect with students through personalized support and culturally relevant education.

More about Maui Wildfire Schools Reopening

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TechGuy101 October 15, 2023 - 8:23 am

Reading this really hits home. We’ve got to look into how tech can better assist in disaster relief. From drones for firefighting to better air quality monitors, there’s got to be a way.

EconMajor October 15, 2023 - 11:33 am

The financial strain on families has gotta be massive. Losing jobs, homes, and now paying for alternative schools if they don’t trust the public ones? That’s rough.

JohnDoe42 October 15, 2023 - 12:42 pm

Wow, can’t even imagine what those kids and families are goin through. It’s not just about losin homes, but schools too? That’s too much. Hope they get the support they need.

IslandLife October 15, 2023 - 2:36 pm

Sacred Hearts and others stepping up like this is truly commendable. but two years till they can return to a normal school? That’s a long time in a child’s life.

MamaBear58 October 15, 2023 - 4:32 pm

Im so worried for the children. How can they be sure its safe to return? Toxins and all that stuff stays behind, doesnt it? Officials need to be super cautious.


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