Parents demand action


POSTED: Sunday, October 18, 2009

The prospect of no public school on Furlough Fridays is spurring parents across the state to fight for their children's education, while some are pulling their kids out of the system entirely.

Lahaina resident Kitt Percy has twins in second grade at King Kamehameha III Elementary School and plans to take the day off from work to fly to Honolulu and take part in a rally at the state Capitol on Friday, the first furlough day.

“;King Kamehameha III, I am proud to note, is the king under the Hawaiian nation that started the public education program,”; said Percy, who will bring along petitions signed by parents on Maui. “;I can't sleep at night, and I just have to do something. We need to save our schools. Ultimately we'd like to have a state law that mandates the number of days in a school year.”;

The state and the teachers' union have agreed to shut public schools 17 Fridays in the 2009-2010 academic year and 17 Fridays in the following year, shortening the school year by nearly 10 percent to save money. Some observers argue it's too late to do anything about it. But parents say they never expected schools would be shut.

“;One of the most remarkable things about it is how it all happened without any public participation before the decision being made,”; said Colin Yost, an attorney who has two children at Aina Haina Elementary School. “;The policy effectively privatizes, in a disjointed fashion, 10 percent of the public school year.”;

;[Preview]  Legal battle continues for parents of special ed. students, state

After meeting for an hour, lawyers representing families' of special needs students and the school superintendent failed to produce a compromise regarding Furlough Fridays.

Watch ]


“;If negotiations are reopened, I strongly urge substituting a straight pay cut for furlough days,”; he said. “;These days without school also have a detrimental impact on children whose only decent meal is their school lunch. This is outrageous and must be corrected.”;

Parents who have joined forces on the issue say they are in it for the long term. Some call for an emergency legislative session to find the money, either from the Hurricane Relief Fund or an increase in the excise tax. Others suggest a pay cut for teachers rather than furloughs. Many want to codify the number of school days in law, rather than leave it up to labor negotiations.

Allison Mikuni, a Palolo resident whose sons are in first and fourth grades, notes that Hawaii's public schools already let kids out by 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“;It is going from 4 1/2 days a week down to 3 1/2 days per week and it's just too big a chunk, especially compared with nationally,”; Mikuni said. “;In other states, the most that they're taking in furlough days is three days per school year and there's only a handful that are taking that much. For the state of Hawaii to pull 17, that's really startling.”;

Her husband, Robert, is off work on Fridays and can watch the kids. But she worries about other families, and has been helping organize the Hawaii Education Matters rally.

“;The social costs and the long-term implications are really tremendous for our community,”; Mikuni said. “;That's really why I feel like I need to do something.”;


        Hawaii Education Matters

At a meeting of parents of children with special needs on Thursday evening, attorney Keith Peck predicted that Furlough Fridays would soon be blocked by legal action. Individualized education plans for special-education students, mandated under federal law, specify the number of minutes of services and instruction required for each child.

“;They cannot violate the federal law with their state act,”; said Peck, who focuses on special education. “;One class-action suit in federal court will stop it all.”;

The state Department of Education, however, vows to continue educating special needs kids as mandated, despite Furlough Fridays.

“;We will provide the services that are required in the Individualized Education Plan,”; Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said last week. “;We are looking in some instances at rescheduling, doing makeups. We will work with the parents and schools on what is the best way to get this accomplished.”;

Smaller private schools are reporting a flurry of interest from public school parents. Le Jardin Academy in Kailua has been getting inquiries and has already accepted new students since the furlough announcement, according to its admissions office. Parents have also been calling and visiting Ho'ala School in Wahiawa, which has space available.

“;When the furlough announcement was first made, we did have an influx of calls,”; said Darlene Dela Cruz, Ho'ala admissions manager. “;We've gotten more applications in the past couple of weeks. Most of the inquiries are for this school year.”;

Iolani School has also noticed a shift.

“;We have seen an increase in applications for grades 1 through 5, which are not usual entry grade levels for us,”; said spokeswoman Cathy Lee Chong. “;There does seem to be an interest in families that want a more stable school schedule for their kids.”;