COVID surge has magnified the unique challenges Hawaii’s rural schools face

Rural schools say they're relying more on the community for help because of limited resources.
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 6:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - School absentee rates are still running high, especially in Hawaii’s rural communities.

The Hana, Lahainaluna, Lanai, and Molokai complex area has run into big hardships during the Omicron surge, but principals are also highlighting successes.

They said their schools’ unique challenges have been magnified by the pandemic.

“Most of my work I would say, eight to 10 hours a day for the last three weeks, has been just COVID response,” said Molokai High Principal Katina Soares.

Last week, the school had nine cases, according to Soares. She said that was a high number for the small school. They also had 30% of their students absent the first week.

“Travel to school was one of the concerns for the students, some of them live 20 plus miles from the school,” Soares said. “Some don’t feel comfortable with them sharing a really long bus ride.”

The Hana, Lahainaluna, Lanai, and Molokai complex area dealt with the highest absences for staff as well. It was at 18.5% the first week back from winter break in January.

“Housing is really an issue at Hana,” said Chris Sanita, the Hana High and Elementary School principal. “There are very few places to long-term rent. So to get a really good working pool of 10 to 15 substitutes just doesn’t exist.”

School leadership said fear can be magnified in these small communities, keeping people at home. Lanai has seen that in effect.

“That is a concern that’s been told to us by parents and others,” said Lanai High and Elementary principal Doug Boyer. “With multi-generational households or families that might have potential existing health problems, they want to keep their students home.”

But with tight-knit areas, communication among staff and families has helped the transition into the classroom, according to principals.

“Our teachers have done an insanely good job of contacting those students in isolation making accommodations so that they don’t fall behind,” said Sanita.

So while rural areas have their pandemic challenges, they find success along the way.

“They do what they need to do to help support the schools to support other organizations in town,” said Boyer.

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