Should start of school year be pushed to after fires’ anniversary? Some think so. | Maui Now (2024)

Should start of school year be pushed to after fires’ anniversary? Some think so. | Maui Now (1)

Mikey Burke and her family get emotional when talking about the upcoming one-year mark of Aug. 8, the day a wildfire destroyed their home in Lahaina.

“It’s a one-year commemoration, or a one-year observance,” she said. “It’s hard to say ‘anniversary.’ You always think of anniversaries as something more cheerful.”

As the mother of four children in the Kula Kaiapuni o Lahaina Hawaiian immersion program in state Department of Education schools in West Maui, Burke has strong thoughts on how the start of the 2024-25 academic year should be handled, namely that it shouldn’t begin until after the emotional date of Aug. 8.

One Maui County Council member is asking the state to do just that. On Friday the council will vote on a resolution urging the DOE to push the start of the 2024-25 school year back one week — from Aug. 5 to Aug. 12 — to allow observance of the one-year mark of the deadly wildfires in Lahaina and Upcountry.

Reaction to the resolution, which was introduced by Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat, was positive from parents and students at the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association Moki Kalanikau Regatta at Kahului Harbor on Saturday. Resolutions don’t have the same power as laws but are sometimes used by the council to urge action on certain issues.

Burke, the president of the Lahaina Community Land Trust, is in full support of the resolution after hearing about it for the first time on Saturday.

“If you’ve ever lost someone very close to you it’s not that particular day that is the one that is the most painful,” Burke said. “Oftentimes, it’s the weeks or the season leading up to that day. So, to have the children start prior to the 8th with all of the sadness and emotion and anxiety of the day coming up I think is a disservice to them. They’re not going to be in the right mindset, the families are not going to be in the right mindset, the teachers are not going to be in the right mindset because we are all focused on 8-8.”

Should start of school year be pushed to after fires’ anniversary? Some think so. | Maui Now (2)

Burke has four school-aged children — Maleko, 14, an incoming freshman at Lahainaluna; twins Makoa and Kaleohano are 9 and entering fourth grade on the Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena Elementary School campus; and Kaimana, 7, is a second-grader.

They were among the thousands of West Maui residents who lost their homes in the Lahaina blaze, which claimed the lives of more than 100 people.

Kanoa Austin, a 12-year-old incoming seventh-grader at Kalama Intermediate School, said he is in favor of the resolution.

“I think it’s good because if people are sad they would have time with their family to think about the fire,” Austin said. “I have a couple of friends who were in the fire, so they missed school and stuff. I think it is important. … I think it would help everybody understand how it works, how the people who lost their homes feel.”

Austin and his mother Emalia Fisher live in Pukalani and did not lose their house in the fires. The first of three major brush fires on Aug. 8 started Upcountry, forcing evacuations, destroying 19 homes in Kula and knocking out water service for months.

“I support it, I think it will be good on the one-year anniversary to spend time with family,” Fisher said. “It’s going to be a hard time for everyone, so I think to not be in school, get support and reflect back would be good.”

Fisher added that Aug. 8 “will be a hard day to process and I think they need support, especially the young ones just because it was such a bad day. So sad.”

Fisher said she would be OK with school being extended into the summer if the resolution does lead to a change in the schedule. She said the change in the schedule would not cause her any problems with child care.

“I think there’s a lot of options with camps and for people who work like myself,” said Fisher, a single mother. “Luckily we have family here who can help.”

Should start of school year be pushed to after fires’ anniversary? Some think so. | Maui Now (3)

Maui High School Principal Jamie Yap said Saturday via phone that the schedules are set more than a year in advance and changing now would present challenges to a schedule that is drawn up to include a week off between the first and second quarters in October, a two-week winter break from late December to early January and spring break in March.

Graduations are set for 66 public high schools across the state in conjunction with the calendar that ends with the final day for students on May 30, 2025.

“There’s a lot of implications for that if there’s going to be a change,” Yap said. “First of all, the state determines the start date of school and that calendar has been out for over a year or close to a year so we can prepare for openings. So when I say there’s implications, people have made plans for opening or professional development and so that may be a challenge if we change the date.”

Mike Landes, the Maui chapter president for the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association who teaches at Lahainaluna High School, said in a message to the Hawai‘i Journalism Initiative that the issue is complex.

“August 8th is sure to be a day of remembrance and reverence, mourning the people and places we lost, honoring the past, and looking forward to a future that is worthy of this great community,” Landes said. “The day belongs to the community, and any events that happen that day should be focused on what the community wants and needs. I assume the state and county governments would want to collaborate with community leaders to assist them in planning for that day, and so I’m not surprised that folks would be thinking about what to do regarding the schools.

“Students and educators are part of the community, and should be able to join their families and friends in whatever services, memorials, or celebrations might happen that day. All members of the community should be able to.”

The resolution reads, in part:

“Every effort should be made to allow students the opportunity to participate in commemorative events and healing activities related to the wildfires and to acknowledge the community’s strength and resiliency … deferring the first day of school to Monday, August 12, 2024, would provide a meaningful gesture of support and recognition for those affected by the wildfires and would allow a more gradual transition into the new school year.”

The state DOE declined to officially comment on the matter on Tuesday afternoon, but did point out that state law requires 180 instructional days for students each academic year, the exact number that is provided in the current calendar. The calendars for school years 2023-24 and 2024-25 were approved by the Board of Education on Oct. 21, 2021.

A DOE memo to the board on that date noted that “having official school calendars established for multiple years assists schools, families, employees, and community organizations to plan for upcoming years.”

“Educational implications have driven the design of the recommended calendars,” the memo states. “The proposed calendar supports student attendance by maximizing five-day weeks; ends the first semester by Winter Break to minimize learning loss and ensure that students are assessed by the teacher who has provided instruction and monitored progress for most of the semester; enables more opportunities for students to earn college credits; and provides teachers more opportunities for training and professional development at the UH over the summer.”

The memo also notes that the calendars are consistent with current collective bargaining agreements, and that both the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association and Hawai‘i Government Employees Association were sent drafts and had no comments.

If the resolution passes on Friday, it will be sent to state education officials as well as Gov. Josh Green and Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen.

For more information on Friday’s meeting and how to testify, visit mauicounty.us/agendas.

Rob Collias
Rob Collias is a general assignment reporter for the Hawai'i Journalism Initiative. He previously worked as a sports reporter for The Maui News and also spent time with the Pacific Daily News in Guam and the Honolulu Advertiser.
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Should start of school year be pushed to after fires’ anniversary? Some think so. | Maui Now (2024)

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