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Lahaina schools reopening 2 months after tragic wildfires

Extensive testing of air, water and soil quality shows the West Maui schools are safe for students to return.
Lahaina schools reopening 2 months after tragic wildfires
Posted at 2:24 PM, Oct 15, 2023

Schools in the West Maui town of Lahaina are set to reopen this week, two months after devastating wildfires ripped through the Hawaii community.

Hawaii Public Schools said conditions are proven safe for students to get back to the classroom.

"Extensive testing of air, drinking water, and soil quality have shown the campuses are safe for students to return," Complex Area Superintendent Rebecca Winkie wrote in a letter to parents.

As part of the reopening plans, HEPA filters will be available in every classroom. Air quality sensors installed at each school will be monitored throughout the day.

The measures help ensure safety against particle pollution, which can cause eye irritation, lung and throat irritation, trouble breathing, or even lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This happens when particulate matter (PM), made up of tiny pieces of things like dust or smoke, travels through the air and can embed themselves deep in the lungs or even one's blood.

West Maui Schools said the Hawaii Department of Education, school administrators, and local agencies will continue working together to ensure safety.

Despite assurances, some parents said they wouldn't be sending their children back for fear of toxins left behind, according to the Associated Press.

Additional reopening efforts include the establishment of an evacuation route for schools in the area to use in emergencies.

Mental health support will also be available to students and staff.

SEE MORE: Lahaina schools complete evacuation routes to use in emergencies

Students of Lahainaluna will return on Oct. 16, Lahaina Intermediate students will return on Oct. 17, and students of King Kamehameha III and Princess Nāhi'ena'ena Elementary will return on Oct. 18. 

Students and staff from King Kamehameha III will share facilities with Nāhi'ena'ena until a temporary school site at Pulelehua opens, Winkie said.

"High-quality tent structures are being installed at Nāhi'ena'ena to add classroom spaces that are equipped with air conditioning and wooden floors," said the superintendent.

Schools across the state had been offering space to displaced students, AP said. Some students went to private schools offering a year's free tuition. Others bused over 45 minutes to public schools on the other side of Maui, while some students opted to go remote.

The wildfires that tore through Lahaina in August killed nearly 100 people and completely destroyed homes and businesses.

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