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Access and air quality are top of mind for Hilo High during Maunaloa eruption

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Tomokoys/Creative Commons
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Public schools on Hawaiʻi Island remain open despite the Maunaloa eruption. While there is a degree of excitement among some teachers and students — there’s also a level of anxiety.

It’s been a week since Maunaloa began erupting after months of earthquakes affecting nearby communities.

"We kind of all were waiting for this, I hate to say. You know, with all the earthquakes that we’ve had. It’s kind of been on everybody’s mind, just waiting for it," said Nekisa Mahzad-Nolan, an 11th-grade English teacher at Hilo High.

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Gregory Bull/AP
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AP
Lava flows at the Maunaloa volcano Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaiʻi. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

"But the general feeling is uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with that. Because nothing is really in imminent danger, nobody’s lives are in danger, but what is in danger is our access to each other. If that lava crosses the highway, the impacts that it’ll have are very long-lasting and widespread," Mahzad-Nolan told HPR.

Mahzad-Nolan said she is concerned about how families and services, such as waste disposal, will be affected if Saddle Road is lost.

Meanwhile, her students are also dealing with anxiety.

"The uncertainty, and they're dealing with that and then just dealing with being a teenager and homework and school and their sports. Like the girls had their first soccer game in Konawaena, and at 7:30 in the morning they get a phone call that it's not happening. And so now that's what the kids are kind of starting to think about," Mahzad-Nolan said.

Mahzad-Nolan said the air quality is affecting some students and staff.

Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area Superintendent Esther Kanehailua has been in overdrive since the eruption began on Monday. She’s been in constant communication with her colleagues about school conditions, and updates.

Kanehailua said her biggest concern is air quality at schools.

"We're having air filtration system coming in to get set up. The good thing is because of COVID we had a lot of those things on school campuses but now we're looking at do we need safe rooms where kids can go if they're experiencing any respiratory difficulties," she told HPR.

Another concern Kanehailua has is the mental well-being of students and school staff.

"I think it's really important for parents to talk with our kids about what is occurring. We don't want them to be fearful. We want them to be respectful and understand the hazard that exists. And if their kids are feeling anxious, that they're sharing that with teachers with school personnel, counselors, principals, and then the same for employees that they are sharing that if they need support," Kanehailua said.

Kanehailua urges parents and community members to stay up to date on the eruption through the county’s civil defense. She advises that if there are any concerns or questions, parents should contact their school’s principal.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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