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Principals sad to see students miss out on ‘milestone’ events

DOE decision last week rules out large gatherings like prom, May Day

Maui school officials expressed disappointment for their students as proms, banquets, May Day celebrations and other school-sanctioned social events were canceled through June 1 following a decision by the state Department of Education.

“I know this was devastating news for our Kekaulike students,” King Kekaulike High School principal Amy Strand said Thursday. “Many have been holding out hope for some sense of normalcy to be restored to their school year, particularly the upperclassmen. They have seen the loss of many of the important milestone events that they spent years looking forward to.”

The DOE recently announced that all in-person social gatherings with more than 20 attendees are officially off to “avoid planning and financial hardships that schools and families would incur due to potential last-minute cancellations.”

“We understand that these are significant and meaningful events to our students,” DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said in a news release last week. “We want our schools to be able to move forward in planning confidently for the best alternative virtual options for their students.”

Alternative commencements and graduations are still on for now, though a decision regarding limited, in-person ceremonies is expected to be made by Feb. 26, the DOE said.

Public schools have had to retool their plans as COVID cases rise and fall. Earlier this month, the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex announced that it would push back blended learning plans for the second semester due to the increase in coronavirus cases on Maui.

Strand said that the recent spike in COVID-19 cases following the holiday season warrants caution and consideration for the health of local families.

“However, knowing that the DOE made the decision to prioritize the safety of our families and our communities, it doesn’t take away the disappointment felt by students, parents and staff as we watch our students try to navigate classes online without the much needed social interaction that is so important to the mental and emotional health of our teens,” she added.

The decision to cancel school-sanctioned social events primarily affects King Kekaulike’s junior prom and senior banquet.

Down the hill at Baldwin, principal Keoni Wilhelm said that banquets, proms, the annual block party, theater plays and graduation will again be impacted this year due to COVID-19, but he encouraged the Bears to “stay the course.”

“It may not make sense right now, but this process will make you even stronger for next year, even in college or your career,” Wilhelm said Thursday afternoon. “We are all here at Baldwin to provide you wraparound services if you need it. Stay strong.”

The DOE said it will continue to monitor case counts and positivity rates as time goes on. In the meantime, the department is encouraging schools to consider making plans for alternative commencement formats, such as virtual ceremonies, drive-thrus or drive-ins, that can be combined with smaller in-person ceremonies in the event they are approved.

“There are still a lot of unknowns at this point,” Kishimoto said in the news release. “We continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students, staff and school communities and are working closely with the Department of Health on a vaccination plan for our HIDOE employees. Our hope is that as more employees gain access to the vaccine, we will be able to provide greater opportunities for safe, in-person activities.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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