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Lahaina fires displace 3,000 students: ‘We need better answers’

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(NEW YORK) — Roda Agapito’s house in Lahaina is somehow still standing, but her children’s schools suffered a different fate.


“I don’t know what to do,” Agapito told ABC News. “We are stuck … as responsible parents, we are stuck.”

Agapito’s two children Aaron and Francis, both saw what little remains of King Kamehameha III Elementary School as their family drove through Lahaina in the days following the fire.

Now, her only options are to enroll her children in schools nearly an hour away from their temporary living situation or virtual learning. However, the poor internet connection in and around Lahaina has been a deterrent for her and the thousands of other families displaced by the fire.

Aaron, 9, has autism, which requires him to have near constant supervision and makes virtual learning an impossible solution, Agapito said.

“Even during COVID, Aaron was exempt from online learning — he needed to be in school to receive the proper attention and care,” Agapito said. “I could drive him an hour to school on the other side of the island, but our schedule is already so harsh.”

Francis, 4, was attending a pre-K vacation bible school or VBS, at Grace Baptist Church in Lāhainā, but it was also lost in the fire.

“You know how kids are, he’s always asking ‘where am I going to go to VBS now?'” said Agapito. “That’s his only concern.”

Francis and Aaron are far from alone. The fires that tore through Lahaina have left nearly 3,000 students from pre-K to 12th grade without a school, according to the Hawaii State Department of Education.

Four public schools were impacted by the fires and remain closed — two elementary, one intermediate and one high school, officials said. King Kamehameha III Elementary is the only school damaged beyond repair, according to the department of education.

The 400 staff members impacted by these closures are on paid administrative leave. The Department of Education told ABC News in a statement it’s aiming to reopen schools as soon as possible, whether at the existing school sites or alternate sites.

Dozens of families rallied in Lahaina Wednesday, pleading for better solutions after Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said he was considering busing children from West Maui to other parts of the island.

The fires have caused 115 fatalities at the time of this writing, according to Maui County. The blazes spread rapidly due to very dry conditions stemming from a drought combined with powerful winds.

Much of the historic town of Lahaina has been “destroyed,” officials said, and the inferno has burned thousands of residential and commercial buildings to the ground.

At the time of this writing, there is only one functioning school on the west side of Maui, and that school is only able to squeeze 119 students impacted or displaced by the fires into its pre-K to 12th-grade curriculum, officials said.

“We have over 1,000 students on our waitlist,” Liz Turcik, director of admissions at Maui Preparatory Academy, told ABC News. “We truly want to help everyone we can, but we physically can’t.”

Maui Preparatory Academy is a private school with an annual tuition of about $25,000. The school, however, said it is asking the parents or guardians of the 119 new students to “pay what they can.” Some students’ tuition is being covered by donations, according to the school.

Most Hawaii schools were scheduled to begin the school year the week of the Lahaina fires. Maui Prep’s first day of school was scheduled for Aug. 9, the day after the fires. Instead, it became one of the first shelters on West Maui.

“I feel like my children are already behind … and [officials] are telling me to wait,” Agapito said. “But I don’t want to wait … my children need their education.”

The principal of King Kamehameha III wrote to parents the school was “exploring portions,” including “temporary sites” and the possibility of welcoming students to another school in Lāhainā that remains closed until water and air quality improve.

“We need better answers, we need officials to start coming up with solutions,” Agapito said.

Of the thousands, about 400 students impacted or displaced by the fire have found a school as of last Friday, according to the department of education.

For the moment, Agapito’s family is living in an apartment above her husband’s place of employment in Kahana.

There’s no telling when Roda and her family will be able to return home, but they describe the land surrounding their property as desolate, “everything else is completely burned to the ground.”

“We’ve had to already consider leaving the island,” she said, a sentiment several parents have shared with ABC News. “It’s sad, but we have to think about the children.”

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