so stink, its
hard to think
State help seems to stagnateBy Crystal Kua
while Maili students struggle
in hot, filthy conditions
The lunch tray in front of 5-year-old Sean Segismundo contained a slice of pizza, salad, applesauce, cake, low-fat chocolate milk -- and a pair of flies landing occasionally.
"Look, the fly in your food," exclaimed Title 1 teacher Stacey Omori to the table of Maili Elementary kindergartners.
Moving his hand back and forth, Sean demonstrated how he and his classmates bat the pests from their meal.
"I don't like flies," said Sean as he flashed a jack-o'-lantern smile.
But flies aren't the only problems at the Leeward Oahu school that everyone would like to shoo away.
The source of the flies is the manure at nearby chicken and pig farms, which sometimes gives off overpowering odors. Adding to the problem, dust from playing fields blows everywhere, and indoor temperatures hit summertime highs of 100 degrees.
The state Health Department has recommended air-conditioning the school to prevent dust from entering classrooms and to control the temperature.
"It's a Catch-22 because it's either we keep the doors open, the windows open and we get inundated with the dust, the smell, the flies that permeate the place -- it's filthy -- or we close the windows and we die of heat," said Omori, who once fainted on an extremely hot day. "I think it's a health risk."
Today, Maili Elementary students, teachers, parents and other community members were to rally at the state Capitol and hold signs with messages such as, "Our school so stink, it's hard to think" and "Cool our school" to gain financial support for their cause.
The subject of accountability at the Legislature makes this year the perfect occasion to make state lawmakers aware of their plight, Omori said.
"Because of all this accountability talk, I feel like, if teachers have to be accountable to the kids' learning by having quality instruction, then what about the state being accountable for giving us a quality environment conducive to learning?" Omori said.
"We've been trying to get them to put some (air conditioning) in our school. They're not hearing us," said Vae Feleti, who represents the parent segment on Maili's school/community-based management council. "If they can do for other schools, why can't they do for Maili? We have this smell that's been here forever.
Overcast skies and a breeze kept conditions bearable yesterday, school officials said, even though the animal aroma wafted through campus occasionally.
"This is not bad today, the smell, but when it really gets to it and especially on hot days, I think you're going to say, 'Oh, this is no place for my kid to go to school,' " Feleti said.
Omori, who documented problems in a study last year, said nearby farmers are not at fault because the farms were there before the school was built in 1963.
There was opposition to putting the school on Kulaaupuni Street for the same reasons plaguing the school today, Omori said.
"The kids are the ones who suffer," state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Maili) said.
Beside the health, safety and environmental concerns, school supporters said these problems are also having an effect on learning.
"Maili (Elementary) has been like that since the '60s. They say, 'Oh, yeah, poor thing,' but nothing has happened," Hanabusa said. "And they wonder why our kids' test scores are so low."
The cost to air-condition the campus is $3 million, Hanabusa said. Maili Elementary is near the top of the Department of Education's construction priority list but that still translates into another 10 years before relief is in sight, she said.
Department of Education officials weren't available to talk about the school's rating and when improvements might come.
Hanabusa and state Rep. Michael Kahikina (D, Maili) are hoping to persuade colleagues this session to include funding for Maili Elementary in the budget, Hanabusa said. "At least the kids would see some relief."
Hanabusa said the saddest story she heard about the situation was of a grandfather who called the school to ask if he could sit with his granddaughter in the cafeteria. The man told the school that the reason for his request was that, "She so small, she doesn't know how to shoo the flies," Hanabusa recalled.