With Lahaina schools set to reopen in about two weeks, Stefanie Hegrenes said her two youngest children are ready for a semblance of normalcy and eager to return to their friends and extracurricular activities on campus.

But she’s not sure she’s ready to pull them out of the distance learning program they began attending along with hundreds of other children after the deadly Aug. 8 fire that left much of their town in ruins. One school — King Kamehameha III Elementary — was destroyed beyond repair, while the other three temporarily closed for repair and cleanup efforts.

In the coming days, Hegrenes hopes to see for herself if the three Lahaina schools set to reopen over three days beginning Oct. 16 have clean air and safe water. State education and health officials have repeatedly assured the public that extensive air, drinking water and soil quality testing at the schools detected no dangers.

“As a parent, I just want to make absolutely sure that my kids are going back to a safe environment,” Hegrenes said.

As concerns about schools’ reopening abound, Lahaina families continue to seek alternatives even as the DOE scales back its distance learning options. A waitlist for the DOE’s West Maui distance learning hub, which provides in-person support for children taking online classes, suggests that demand remains high.

The DOE plans to close the hub on Thursday, although the state distance learning program will remain open for families. The department is assessing families’ future plans before making staffing decisions, said Teri Ushijima, assistant superintendent for the DOE’s office of curriculum and instructional design.

Demand for distance learning spiked in late August and early September, with the DOE’s program increasing by approximately 500 Maui students as some parents sought alternatives to enrolling their children in schools elsewhere on the island that took in many of the displaced students. For comparison, the distance learning program currently enrolls 192 students elsewhere in the state, Ushijima said.

Read the full article about distance learning and schools in Lahaina by Megan Tagami at The 74.