HONOLULU (KHON2) — Lahainaluna students and teachers returned to campus on Monday for the first time since the devastating fires two months ago.
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Many said it was an emotional day with mixed feelings, but overall, students were happy to be back with their peers.
For others, it was the first day of some sense of normalcy again.
The Department of Education asked media to give the students and teachers their privacy on this first day back, but provided video and interviews.
“It was good to see my friends and stuff it brings back a lot of good memories from last year and it’s good to come back for sure,” said Lahainaluna senior Teva Loft.
The school said the day began with an emotional assembly that included a student tribute and the singing of the alma mater.
“We processed what had happened, and we celebrated being back, and it’s the first day of homecoming week and it couldn’t be more fitting than coming home,” said Richard Carosso, Lahainaluna principal.
KHON2 was told some teachers did not return to school. The Hawaii State Teachers Association couldn’t say how educators didn’t come back or the reason why.
Not all students returned either.
On Sunday, state health officials said the ash tested from the Kula fire found extremely high levels of arsenic, along with other chemicals.
Officials believe it’s the same type of ash sitting around Lahaina, but education officials assured parents, staff, and students the campuses were deep cleaned and have HEPA air filters inside.
“I understand people have concerns and everyone has their own right to feel about safety the DOH has deemed it safe to reopen, I’ve been here the past couple of months and for me, the data and science says our school is safe so I’m comfortable being here,” principal Carosso added.
The state superintendent said if sensors indicate an unhealthy air level, a ping will be sent to environmental services and education leaders phones and they will determine what to do next, like sheltering in place and turning on air filters inside classrooms, and restricting students from going outside.
When school was over, Lahainaluna alum like Lilinoe Elam-Fonohema were at the bottom of the hill offering up treats donated by local businesses. Elam-Fonohema was a COVID graduate, and saw the Maui community help her senior class when they needed it.
“I was raised by ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ and I want every Lahaina student, high school, elementary, any kid from Lahaina to know you have an entire village behind you ready to help and drop a treat wherever we can,” she said.
The DOE said absences will be excused for the first week as parents discuss whether to send their kids back to school or not.
Some parents did opt for their children to continue distance learning.