Thursday, September 13, 2001

America Attacked

Halted flights
crimp Felix decree

State compliance is being slowed
as long as travel is restricted

By Crystal Kua

Public schools have faced school closures and activity cancellations since Tuesday's terrorism attacks, but now flight restrictions are slowing the department's compliance with the Felix consent decree.

More students are being allowed to return to schools located on military bases today.

The Department of Education is reopening Hickam, Mokulele, Nimitz and Iroquois Point elementary schools.

Schools on Army installations -- Hale Kula, Solomon, Shafter, Wheeler elementary schools and Wheeler Intermediate -- will open to staff today and likely open to students tomorrow.

Makalapa Elementary, closed Tuesday and yesterday due to an unrelated incident, is also reopening, although officials still are not sure what caused the itching and other symptoms that closed the school.

The Department of Education has canceled through Sunday all co-curricular activities, including athletic events previously scheduled in football, cross-country and volleyball.

The cancellations of flights has led to roadblocks in complying with the Felix consent decree, the federal mandate to improve educational and mental health services to special-needs students.

"It's freezing everyone in place. When travel stopped, that's where they must stay," schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said. "We're hopeful, of course, that interisland travel starts up real soon, and as soon as it does, we'll be able to get back to the work that will carry us toward our obligations for Nov. 1."

A scheduled compliance presentation -- the last step before a school complex is deemed to be in full compliance with the consent decree -- had to be canceled Tuesday for the Hilo High School complex.

"We canceled Hilo because no one could get there," LeMahieu said, including court monitor Ivor Groves and plaintiff's attorney Eric Seitz.

A second compliance presentation for the Kaiser High School complex did proceed even though another plaintiff's attorney in the Felix case could not fly to Honolulu from the Big Island, LeMahieu said. Kaiser, however, was deemed in full compliance.

Testing of eight school complexes -- high schools and the elementary and intermediate schools that feed into them -- begins next week to see if at least six win provisional compliance in time to meet the Nov. 1 deadline to avoid the appointment of a receiver.

Some of those complexes are on the neighbor islands, and continued restrictions on flight could be an obstacle.

"It could cause real problems," LeMahieu said.

Also canceled was a job fair to recruit special-education teachers, which are needed to beef up those positions and meet the court benchmarks. "They cannot come to us."

The job fair, however, will be rescheduled within the next few weeks. "Hopefully, we won't lose any potential candidates as a result."

LeMahieu said that a number of training sessions, many dealing with special-education issues, also have to be rescheduled.

"Maybe we can press a barge or a ferry into service," he quipped.

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