As students return to Kahului Elementary after arson fire, HSTA helps their teachers

A week and a half after a costly arson fire, students returned to Kahului Elementary on Monday, while the Hawaii State Teachers Association announced it is sending $200 checks to the eight teachers whose classrooms were destroyed in the blaze.

“I know how difficult it must for the teachers to lose all their supplies, lesson plans and curriculum in a fire like this,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “We wanted to reach out and try to help them to rebuild their classrooms.”

The school held a special assembly Monday for the roughly 135 students who have been displaced. The children have been moved to the library and other classrooms on campus. The fire, which was intentionally set on Nov. 24, badly damaged six classrooms.

Teacher Lianne Oshiro, HSTA’s head faculty representative at Kahului Elementary, had her classroom destroyed.

“(We lost) the kids’ school supplies, our computers, the desks, our own personal things like photos and artwork that the kids made for us,” said Oshiro, who has taught at the school for 12 years.

“Our Kahului School Ohana is extremely grateful for the outpouring of support that we have received during these challenging times,” Oshiro added, “Our keiki are transitioning well and are excited to be back in school. Mahalo to the community and HSTA for all the love and support.”

HSTA Maui Office Secretary Cheryl Lawrence said the fire hit her especially hard.

A Kahului Elementary alumna, Lawrence said, “My favorite classroom from my student days there was destroyed and it’s now the classroom of my grandson,” who’s a 3rd grader at the school.

Lawrence and fellow Kahului Elementary graduates mounted a classroom supplies drive for students at the school. Lawrence sent HSTA a photo of the entire back of her car filled with donated school supplies.

“We are so sad that the children and teachers lost their classrooms and all of their precious contents. It’s our effort to give them the tools to succeed,” Lawrence said. “We are now focusing our donation drive for the teachers who lost items purchased with their personal funds. It is so refreshing to witness our HSTA ohana exhibiting their support for one another.”

An outpouring of other community support is helping with the healing. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up by parents to raise funds for Kahului Elementary. Donations of school supplies can be dropped off at any Maui fire station until December 20.

Administrators will be meeting to discuss options to make up for lost instructional time and to increase security on campus.

“We are looking at providing cameras and beefing up our security system,” Kahului Elementary Principal Keoni Wilhelm told Hawaii News Now. “We did have security here on our campus with the Maui Police Department throughout the evenings and weekends. We’ll continue to do so intermittently throughout the winter break.”

The DOE told KITV that it plans to acquire portable classrooms for those classrooms destroyed by fire. A timetable is pending. The school continues to look at what repairs will need to be made.

The fire caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage. No arrests have been made.

The Maui Police Department said anyone with information leading to the arrest and indictment of those responsible can earn cash rewards up to $1,000.