Judge to parents: ‘Hang in there’ as dispute between state, preschool is hammered out

A retired judge was appointed to mediate the application process.
Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 5:41 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 25, 2022 at 9:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Five days after a court forced an unlicensed preschool on Hawaii Island to shut down, Judge Peter Kubota said he wants to see the facility get its license.

On Tuesday morning, he ordered the state and the executive director of Kalamapii Play School to work together. giving both parties a week to try and make it happen.

A retired judge was appointed to mediate the application process.

“Because we have so many students here who are getting services and can’t wait months and months more, what I want to do is have the parties try to work on something to see how the state can help get you qualified,” Kubota said.

The order comes after the court ordered the unlicensed preschool to shut down last week based on arguments by the Department of Human Services that the school’s teachers aren’t qualified and children are being exposed to lead.

Previous Coverage: Judge orders preschool to shut down amid contentious dispute with state

“The black letter of the law says you cannot operate an unlicensed childcare facility. DHS was trying to get them a license. But there are these serious issues we cannot simply get around,” said state Deputy Attorney General Lynne Youmans.

It’s a decision that was made before the school’s executive director was allowed to present any evidence in her defense.

On Tuesday morning, in front of a courtroom packed with parents, students and staff, Kubota heard Kalamapii’s side of the story for the first time.

“Ms. Pierce through the school has addressed and abated any lead issue on campus,” said attorney Gary Zamber. “She got EPA certified firms to come in and give the all clear.”

As for the qualified teachers, Pierce says she’s spent the past year looking for staff that meet the state’s standards but finding anyone who’s available has been nearly impossible.

“The school presented options to the court as to how they could open as demonstration site under existing Hawaii State law,” Zamber said.

Meanwhile, parents say the school has always been transparent about the lawsuit, lead and its teachers not meeting state standards, saying they would have liked to see more cooperation with the state earlier in the process so this conflict could have been avoided.

“I felt extremely discouraged and disappointed that this was the route that they had decided to take despite the incredible need for good childcare that we have in the community,” said Kayli Pack.

On Tuesday afternoon, DHS provided HNN with this statement:

“We appreciate the court’s recognition that Hawaii law makes it unlawful for someone to operate without a license. Therefore, Kalamapii Play School was wrong to open up without a license and that a court order was required to keep their child care operation closed until they successfully obtained their license.

We look forward to getting information from Kalamapii Play School about the soil on the property and how they have done the necessary work to make sure it is not dangerous to the children and that she has pledged to have a contractor come onto the property to assess that all of the hazardous conditions previously identified have been addressed. We are looking forward to Kalamapii Play School providing us the names of the new staff that are available to start work and meet the qualifications detailed in the Hawai’i Administrative Rules. The laws and regulations governing child care exist for a reason to ensure minimum health and safety requirements are being met by all child care providers.

We look forward to her providing that additional information for the department’s review and resolve the remaining issues.”

As Tuesday morning’s proceeding wrapped up, Kubota urged parents and kids to “just hang in there. This is a good thing. The state is going to use it’s best efforts to help Ms. Pierce get in line with all the requirements of the law.”

For now, the school will remain closed through at least next Monday.

That’s when both sides will report to the judge and share what progress has been made.