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Schools still face hurdles going online

Internet connections an issue; some lack computers

Maui County public schools rolled into its second week of school Monday with students waiting for laptops and hot spot internet connectivity devices and some schools, especially in rural areas, facing connectivity issues.

At Haiku Elementary School, Principal Karen Walker said that cellphone and internet connectivity can be poor in some areas of the school district in East Maui.

“We are in a unique situation . . . Some areas’ hot spots don’t really work,” she said Monday afternoon as many county schools moved into the distance learning phase following a week of mostly orientation and supplies pickup.

For students with connectivity issues, Haiku is allowing small groups to come to campus for face-to-face instruction. Walker was not able to provide the number of students who lacked internet access and were coming to campus.

Other families without internet connectivity chose not to send their children to school but will be provided hot spot devices, she said.

Computers were not an issue. Walker said every student who needed a computer, around 130, received one.

At Lanai High and Elementary School, Principal Elton Kinoshita said that the school has sufficient computers and hot-spot devices, but that there are areas on Lanai where cellphones don’t work or coverage is spotty. This includes the Hotel Lanai and Koele areas.

The school will soon roll out mobile hubs, he said. These are devices that can be placed in driver education vehicles or school buses and parked in neighborhoods where internet connectivity is a challenge.

Kinoshita said the school received enough iPads for the younger grades and Google Chromebooks for the older grades.

Without any COVID-19 cases on Lanai, Kinoshita had wanted face-to-face instruction, but the feedback from the community and staff indicated a preference for virtual learning.

Schools on Molokai faced with internet connectivity challenges were allowed to offer face-to-face learning; some did, but others opted to proceed virtually.

Most county public schools are using distance learning for at least four weeks, which runs until Sept. 11.

Rural schools are not the only places with poor internet connections. In Kahului, Maui High School Principal Jamie Yap initially requested 100 hot-spot devices, and then ordered another 100. The arrival of the second batch of hot-spot devices is a couple of weeks out.

For students who cannot log on to their virtual classes, the school has set up a learning center, where students can go from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. There is supervision but no instruction, Yap said.

He did not have a count of how many students visited the center Monday but said that the numbers have been decreasing since last week, with school officially beginning Aug. 17. On that first day, there were about 30 students; by Thursday, the numbers had dwindled to less than a dozen, Yap said.

He thinks fewer students are coming to the learning center because families have worked out their computer connectivity issues.

As for computers, the school requested 600. Yap said he’s sure not all have been loaned out because there are students who put in requests that have not picked up their computers yet. Students still were picking up their computers Monday.

Overall, Yap said the school is dealing with the new normal.

“‘I’m sure there is a couple of people not happy, (but) I think for the most part, it’s moving along,” he said.

For the first week of school, all classes were held virtually, Yap said, and there were at least two students absent. Those absent students may have been sick or still trying to figure out the technology, he said.

For the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex, Superintendent Kathleen Dimino said in a statement that arrangements have been made “to provide devices to all students who need them.”

“Our primary challenge has been connectivity since standard cellular coverage is not available in certain areas of our complex,” she said. “We are currently exploring technologies to support our more remote sites, and expect to have connectivity available in those areas in the near future.”

The other complex area superintendent in the county, Lindsay Ball of the Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai Complex, said that students are still awaiting their computers.

“While orders have been placed to provide every student with access to a laptop, not all devices have been delivered at this time due to nationwide backlog and supply chain issues,” Ball said. “We expect the delivery of those devices in the coming weeks.

“In the interim, we are standing up mobile hubs throughout the complex to provide network connectivity for up to 25 people, within a 300-foot line of sight, to allow for appropriate social distancing. We sincerely appreciate the understanding and resilience of our community in these challenging times.”

Recently, Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset members delivered 61 refurbished used computers to Princess Nahienaena Elementary School. Principal Rebecca Winkie said the computers were much appreciated.

“We have loaners, but these will be given to families,” Winkie said in the Rotary Club announcement.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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