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Charter schools relocate due to lava and to avoid tsunami threat

A charter school near Leilani Estates is relocating to escape lava and fumes like the rest of its neighbors, and another charter more than 25 miles away in Hilo also decided to pick up and move because of the threat of tsunami.

Susie Osborne, head of school at Kua O Ka La in Pahoa, had no choice about leaving her house in Leilani Estates on a moment’s notice, and more than 10 other staff members have also had to evacuate, she said.

“My personal home is at ground zero,” she said in a phone call. “It erupted right in front of my house.”

But her focus is on providing stability for the 234 students in preschool through 12th grade, who attend Kua O Ka La, which is on Kalapana-Kapoho Road, downhill from the volcanic action. It has been closed this week but will reopen in Hilo on Monday.

Students in grades kindergarten through fourth grade will be at New Hope Church and grades five through 12 will be at the Boys & Girls Club in Hilo, she said.

“This community is amazing how it’s come together,” Osborne said. “Everybody has been 100 percent fantastic despite the magnitude of this calamity and trying to wrap our heads around it short and long term.”

“Our teachers are all prepared,” she said. “They have all the supplies they need. Part of the challenge is we have to redo all our bus routes and try to get food secured.”

Tsunami concerns

Far from the erupting fissures, the leaders of the Hawaiian language immersion school Ka ‘Umeke Ka‘eo also closed their campus on Friday and Monday because they feared the seismic activity made it vulnerable to tsunami. The school is in the coastal community of Keaukaha, wedged between Hilo International Airport and Puhi Bay.

“We are very, very attuned to earthquakes and the risk of tsunami that that brings,” said Olani Lilly, principal of Ka ‘Umeke Ka‘eo, which evacuated Thursday because of seismic activity and remained closed on Friday and Monday.

She has decided to relocate the whole school for the rest of the semester. It has 229 students in preschool through ninth grade.

“Our parents, our students and our staff are very concerned and very sensitive about this and we wanted to see if we can give them peace of mind until the end of the school year,” Lilly said.

On Tuesday, Ka ‘Umeke Ka‘eo students in fourth through ninth grade resumed classes in Hale ‘Olelo at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and third-graders were housed at Hale Lamalama on Kuawa Street. By Wednesday, all her students were accommodated at UH Hilo and Hawaii Community College.

“We are very thankful for the university’s support in this,” Lilly said. “They have been amazing, very open.”

Other school closures

Other charter schools that closed Monday due to volcanic and seismic activity include Hawaii Academy of Arts & Sciences in Pahoa, Ke Ana La‘ahana in Keaukaha and Ke Kula ‘o Nawahiokalani‘opu‘u in Keaau. Hawaii Academy of Arts & Sciences planned to remain closed all week and reopen Monday.

A notice posted on its website said, “Please use this time to spend with your family or to outreach to others in our community.”

Ke Kula ‘o Nawahiokalani‘opu‘u was closed to students Monday to repair minor damage after Friday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook loose some ceiling tiles, according to the school’s director, Kauanoe Kamana. But the kids were back in session Tuesday.

The staff took time in the morning to to gather in the gym and review how things went with the school’s evacuation during Friday’s earthquake and consider how to improve, she said.

“We want to make sure that our teachers and students feel confident about what we do and that our system of communications are working with our parents,” Kamana said.

Business as usual

Unlike the charters, public schools run by Department of Education operated normally, including Pahoa Elementary, which is close to Leilani Estates, after officials determined they were safe. Structural engineers performed site inspections at all campuses in the Hilo- Waiakea and Kau-Keaau-Pahoa complex areas over the weekend and found no significant structural damage from the recent earthquakes.

Department of Education officials are monitoring air quality and if it drops, students and staff will take shelter in designated locations, according to a news release. It said additional counseling services are available to students.

“All schools and staff will remain prepared for the unexpected and initiate established earthquake, shelter-in-place and evacuation safety procedures, should the need arise,” schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement.

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