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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America's bloodiest day
Most schools remain open to give sense of normalcy

By Alice Keesing and Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writers

Televisions were on in classrooms across the state yesterday, and counselors were on ready alert as students and staff struggled to absorb the horror of the day.

Despite a lively discussion on the terrorist attacks, students in Elaine Koanui's sixth-grade class at Ma'ema'e Elementary School couldn't help stealing glances at the TV mounted on the wall. Although set with the volume low, the school's TVs were left on.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Most schools stayed open yesterday, but it was far from business as usual.

"This is history," Ma'ema'e Elementary School teacher Elaine Koanui told her sixth-grade class. "This is actual history. This is what's going to be in your textbooks in the future, and you're living during this time."

Like other teachers around the state, Koanui tried to turn some of the horror into a learning experience.

Students talked about terrorism and peace. They admitted their fears that Hawai'i could be attacked and shared their worries for family in other parts of the country.

And, like the rest of the nation, they wondered why.

"They can definitely treat it as a teachable moment and accept the students' questions, their fears, their concerns, their feelings and discuss it openly," said Ma'ema'e counselor Matt Nakamura, who spent the day worrying about his sister, who lives in New York. "But it's a horrible, horrible thing and there's no answers for a lot of the questions the kids will have."

Public schools on military bases were shut down yesterday for security reasons. Public schools and University of Hawai'i campuses on the Big Island were also closed, at the request of Hawai'i County Mayor Harry Kim.

Kim said he made the decision to close the schools after consulting with new Hawai'i County District Superintendent Valerie Tanaka.

Because the Big Island is twice the size of the rest of the state combined, "we are different than, say, Maui or O'ahu," said Kim. School bus runs begin at 6 a.m., and Kim said he announced his decision to cancel classes at 5:45 a.m. so that students in rural areas would get the word in time.

Today, Big Island schools will reopen. However, those on military bases will remain closed.

For those campuses that did open yesterday, there was an eerie quiet as students and teachers worked their way through the shock. Across the state, counselors and crisis emergency teams were readied to help those children struggling to come to terms with the day's terror.

Many students stayed home from school, while teachers sent those disturbed by the bombings to counselors and encouraged them to talk about what they watched on TV in place of regular classes. Students also scanned the Internet for the latest updates.

"There's a lot of emotions right now from everybody," Cachero said. "A lot of people said — maybe in jest — just declare war. They want it to be extreme. Others want them to do an investigation. The teachers let us talk about it. It's like grief when somebody in your family dies. You have to talk about it."

Although the Department of Education announced that attendance was largely unaffected at most public schools yesterday, half of the students at Radford High School stayed home. Radford has the state's largest number of military students.

As will likely be the case at other public schools, Radford Principal Robert Stevens said no one will be penalized for absences yesterday. About 80 percent of the students at his school come from Navy, Air Force and Army homes.

"Some parents came to get their kids, and we let them go," Stevens said. "There's a good chance we'll be in a war, and it's their lives that are affected first."

Television news dominated the day in the classroom.

"Some of the kids were scared," said Daniel Nguyen, 16, a junior. "People were talking about World War III."

Some parents did question why the state Department of Education did not close schools.

The decision to stay open was largely in the hope of providing some normalcy for children, said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen.

Kalaheo High Principal James Schlosser believes that was the right decision. "I think one of the goals of terroristic activity is to create chaos and disorder," he said. "And one way for us as citizens to fight terroristic activity is to not allow chaos and disorder to occur."

But as people in Hawai'i awoke to the shocking news of the attacks, some parents, like Karen Duhaylonsod of Makakilo, decided to keep their families together.

For Duhaylonsod, keeping her four students out of school was a sign of respect. "We kind of thought that, you know, life shouldn't really go on normally today — it shouldn't," she said.

Staff writers Hugh Clark, Zenaida Serrano Espanol, Mary Kaye Ritz, Michael Tsai, Scott Ishikawa and Chris Oliver contributed to this report.