Always Investigating: Schools react, respond to lava emergency

Always Investigating

Fires, flood, earthquakes, and eruptions. They’ve turned lives upside down across the state, including for many children. That’s forced the Department of Education to take stock and respond quickly. 
The volcanic emergency on Hawaii Island caused an unexpected interruption for many kids in the area, including those at Kua o Ka La Charter School who have been without a campus due to the risks of lava, earthquakes, impassable roads and sulphur dioxide. They are back to school today thanks to a remote campus set up at the Hilo Boys and Girls Club.
“To see their kids out in the grass playing it put smiles on all of our faces,” said Chad Cabral, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island.
It’s a return to routine that is critical not just for the kids, but for their parents who are under enormous stress dealing with an ever-unfolding disaster that has yet to reach the aftermath stage.
“It gives the parents some time to take care of what they need to do at home,” said Cabral. “Knowing that their kids are in school, they’re with their friends they’re with their teachers that they’re used to and they’re in a safe place.”
So far the Department of Education public schools in the region have remained open all but one day, but they’re playing it by ear school day by school day as fissures open unpredictably in the region.
“Right now we’re just keeping up to date with Civil Defense there, the county level tells us and the community what to do and we follow suit,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, D.O.E. Director of Communications.
A major concern they say is air quality, and they’re keeping tabs daily on whether and where to stay open.
“We do a rundown of our facilities, a rundown of our civil defense, we do have somebody who is in those meetings every day, every morning,” said Dela Cruz. “Right now our schools are stocking up and getting prepared with air purifiers.”
They also sent structural engineers to 17 facilities after the first large earthquakes to check for cracks, all deemed safe at this point. Despite public schools being open, getting to school has been a challenge for many families.
“We have noticed a decrease in attendance for the Pahoa complex, that’s understandable,” said Dela Cruz. “At this time we will work with families to address their needs later. In the meantime however schools are open and students are expected to attend school.”
It’s been quite a school year, which started with a Maui campus fire early on, the Kauai floods, the Big Island lava and earthquakes.
“You want to talk about all those things you have to add too, Gina, the false alarm with regard to the unlikely possibility of a nuclear threat,” said Dela Cruz. “Our schools went into action, we did vulnerability assessments on our facilities making sure that if anything were to occur we knew where to put students, where to shelter in place.”
And when the place where school is held is no longer easily accessible for most, they’ve found a back up plan, like the K-12 temporary school site set up for more than 50 north shore Kauai students at the Hanalei Colony Resort, after the floods and mudslides.
“We are probably for convenience purposes going to just make sure that is open for the rest of the year,” said Dela Cruz.
For campuses that missed whole school days, there won’t likely be extras to make up at the end, because there is still time for catching up using bits and pieces of the remaining school year calendar.
“Cutting into lunch, stretching the day, shortening recess could be another option but shifting around the school day to allow for those instructional minutes,” said Dela Cruz.
Administrators, families and community supporters agree what can’t be replaced is the sense of assurance and comfort that comes from being able to go to school especially after disaster strikes.
“If schools can open, that’s one sense of normalcy that a family can have,” said Dela Cruz.

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