Oahu public charter faces closure following questions about online learning, enrollment

The state Public Charter School Commission has voted not to renew Kamalani Academy’s contract, citing several violations.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 9:37 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 11:38 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Public Charter School Commission has voted not to renew Kamalani Academy’s contract, citing several violations.

The commission’s 5-to-1 vote means that the Wahiawa school could close its doors permanently at the end of the school year in June.

Kamalani Academy is the only public charter school in Central Oahu, and is only the third such school to lose its contract since the charter school program started in Hawaii in 1995.

The commission had already sent the school a letter of concern in 2021, saying that it didn’t have the authority to open a new virtual learning program.

“Charter schools can have virtual education, but if they don’t have that in their contract with us, they have to just amend it. They did not,” said commission Chair Cathy Ikeda.

Ikeda said the learning program itself also became an issue when Kamalani had a sudden jump in attendance, adding 180 online students.

“It’s state per-pupil monies and the majority of the monies have already dropped,” said Ikeda. “And so this increase was not budgeted for and could not be released.”

The school’s principal said the decision came as a surprise.

“They didn’t really think about the kids or the staff. They just thought they were upset about a board decision,” said Principal Amanda Fung. “And so now you have 160 kids and 30 employees who are in angst.”

Fung said the school’s board had contacted several vendors so that its students could do online learning during the pandemic.

“What ended up happening was other families found out we were doing the online learning and wanted to register for that online learning because the DOE ... only had certain amounts per school,” said Fung.

The commission put Kamalani on notice again last year over its enrollment records, saying it couldn’t produce the files on the new online students.

“How do you know that these are your students? How do you know that they’re getting taught?” said Ikeda.

Ikeda still said it was a difficult decision for the commission to make.

Fung said Kamalani Academy will remain open through the end of the school year. It’s website also says the school is still accepting enrollment applications for the new school year in the fall.

Fung said that’s because the school will fight the decision.

“Right now we still have options,” she said. “We’re not in a situation where there are no options, so right now we want to exhaust all of those options.

The main option is to appeal the decision. Kamalani has 20 days to file such an appeal with the state Board of Education, which would still have time to uphold or overturn the ruling before the end of the school year.