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Board votes to close school; supporters hope to appeal

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The state Board of Education voted unanimously last night to shutter Queen Liliuokalani Elementary in May, but some parents vowed to continue the effort to keep the school open.

Several parents said they would ask the new appointed Board of Education to take up the issue and overturn last night’s decision. The governor hasn’t yet appointed the new board, but members could take their seats as early as April.

"We feel that this is a wonderful school worth fighting for," said parent Jan Bullock. "We are not giving up hope."

Alex Alika Malabey, an alumnus of Liliuokalani whose niece now attends the school in Kaimuki, said he wants it to be given another chance to increase enrollment.

"Our duty now is to lobby the next board," he said.

Voters in November overwhelmingly supported the switch to an appointed board. Lawmakers passed a bill setting up the appointment process, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he would sign it and try to appoint members by April 1.

If Liliuokalani’s supporters aren’t successful, its 98 students will move to other campuses after the last day of classes May 26.

Parents can send their children to Liholiho, Waialae or Kahala schools.

At their full board meeting on Kauai last night, members voted 9-0 to close Liliuokalani.

Meanwhile, the board also voted to keep Puuhale Elementary in Kalihi open. The Department of Education had proposed closing the school and sending its 234 students to Kalihi Kai Elementary, creating a campus with 833 students.

The department is eyeing small schools statewide for consolidation to save money. So far, the state has closed two schools but spared eight others.

At Liliuokalani yesterday, several parents said they were unsure where they would send their children.

Nani Elm of Hawaii Kai said she enrolled her child at Liliuokalani on a geographic exception because she was looking for a school with a nurturing, safe environment. Her daughter had been bullied at another public school, Elm said.

At Liliuokalani "it’s just a very different atmosphere," she said. "Everyone knows each other."

Parent Julie Uyeno-Pidot is worried about the transition for her 6-year-old son, who will attend Liholiho.

"It’s substantially bigger," she said.

Uyeno-Pidot added the mood on the campus in recent days has been "sad" and "almost nostalgic."

The department has said closing Liliuokalani, established in 1912, would save about $530,000 in the coming fiscal year.

The campus has eight teachers and class sizes that range from six to 22 children.

Raelene Chock, Liliuokalani principal, said the school is prepared to close or to stay open.

"We’re ready," she said.

 

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