Keanae school empty but open
The three students who enrolled this year go to Hana instead
A ONE-ROOM schoolhouse in Keanae, Maui, that has long been the state's smallest public school has no students this year, but the rural campus isn't officially closed.
The three students who enrolled at Keanae Elementary for the 2005-06 school year are attending Hana High and Elementary School, 18 miles away, down the winding Hana Highway.
The decision isn't sitting well with some Keanae residents, who have been trying to keep their century-old school alive despite an enrollment of just a handful of students.
"I've been fighting this for years," said Janet Hueu Redo, whose grandchildren were forced to transfer this year from the school that has educated their family for several generations. "Why do this to us, who have had a school for over 100 years here?"
Rick Paul, principal of both the Hana school and the Keanae school, and Maui Superintendent Ron Okamura decided to suspend operations at Keanae this fall in order to preserve staff for the Hana campus.
"With only three students, it didn't justify the loss of one of our positions," Paul said last week. "As a restructuring school, I would be giving up 10 percent of my elementary staff for three kids."
Without the three Keanae children, the Hana school could have lost a teacher of its own because of low enrollment in one grade, he said. And having the Keanae teacher at Hana allows her to help more students. There are 364 students enrolled at Hana High and Elementary.
An average of five students have attended Keanae School in recent years, with one teacher handling kindergartners through third grade, Paul said. Fifteen older kids who live in Keanae already commute to Hana, a bus ride that can take 45 minutes to an hour.
Redo said the commute is tough for her young grandchildren, who stay after school for tutoring, and don't get home until about 5 p.m.
"I've got two second-graders and one third-grader, and it's so hard for these kids to take that long trip into Hana," she said. "You look at them coming home on the bus, so hungry, so tired.
"There was no consideration for our lifestyle," she added.
If enrollment reaches 12 students at Keanae for the coming school year, classes will be held there again, Paul said. He has kept a half-time maintenance worker on staff to maintain the Keanae School grounds and building, which is also used as a community center.
Robert Carroll, who represents East Maui on the County Council, said he plans to hold a meeting after the holidays to try to work something out to allow classes at the school, even if fewer than 12 students sign up.
"We would like to work with the administration and the principal to do all we can to have that school remain open," said Carroll, a 1961 Hana High graduate. "It's the heart of Keanae."
He said some Keanae residents enrolled their youngsters at Hana because they feared the one-room schoolhouse would close, but more might have enrolled at Keanae if they were assured it would remain open.
Carroll said officials don't want to formally close the school, because current standards require a minimum acreage for schools and Keanae School wouldn't be big enough to reopen.
"We are pleased that he realized the need to keep it open as a building so that we still have the option," Carroll said. "We're really worried because once you close an old school like that, it could never qualify for reopening."