LIHUE — Students at King Kaumualii Elementary School are being turned away from the after-school A+ program due to a shortage of staff members.
“There is a shortage of A+ staff at King Kaumualii (Elementary) and state child care regulations limit the amount of students per adult supervisor (20:1),” said Lindsay Chambers, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “There is currently a waitlist until the school can provide enough qualified staff.”
But for some parents and students, playing the waiting game isn’t a viable option. Public schools throughout the state just began the new school year Monday, and there are some students who don’t have a place to go after school since their parents/guardians are still at work, unable to pick them up when the final class bell rings.
June Munoz, a grandparent of two keiki who attend King Kaumualii, said that the school’s lack of A+ staffers has a ripple effect.
“I’m just so disturbed by the fact that there are so many kids that are going without after school care,” she said. “We don’t want to keep our kids at home without supervision, there are single parents out there working full-time who are depending on this after school care.”
When asked how many A+ staffers are currently employed at King Kaumualii, Chambers said she “doesn’t feel comfortable giving out that information” since the school year has just begun and the situation is still fluid.
When asked how many students are enrolled in the A+ program, Chambers said that information is not available.
Munoz, who also works full time, said when her grandchildren need help or to get picked up because their parents are busy, the duty falls to her.
“We’re all counting on our kids to go to school. One of my grandkids got accepted but the other one did not,” she said.
Munoz has a grandchild in the fourth grade and another in the first. Her first-grade grandchild was not accepted.
“Parents are scrambling right now until positions are filled,” she said.
Munoz said that a big problem with the A+ program is that the school waits too long to allow parents to register their kids into the program.
“It was just a matter of a few days before school started when they realized that when people went to register their kids for A+, many of them had to be turned away since they didn’t have enough caregivers and people running the program,” she said.
Munoz added that her family only found out the school didn’t have enough staff members to accommodate the number of kids last week Thursday, just days before the first day of school.
“We were all in a panic because it seems like some of the previous A+ employees left for other jobs and I guess the school didn’t have information in a timely manner,” she said. “This was sort of an issue last year as well when students were going back to school as well. My grandkids were able to get in, but it was by the skin of their teeth. The registration process is just so chaotic.”
Kauai’s A+ district coordinator Josie Parongao did not respond to TGI’s request for comment.
In a previous interview with TGI in October, Parongao said that the school didn’t have enough staff to accommodate all the kids, even a couple of months into the school year.
Another problem that persists is that it’s not just like anyone can be hired as an A+ staffer.
Chambers said the school is accepting applications for open positions for the after-school program, but Munoz pointed out they wouldn’t be hired immediately.
“They still have to do background checks and all of that so it will take awhile,” Munoz said. “I don’t know how many people a well-staffed group would be, but I don’t even think they have five or six (staff). And according to the A+ director (at King Kaumualii), I think that there were three of them that didn’t return. They don’t know until the last minute if they’re coming back or not, but I’m wondering why the school waits until the last minute to scramble around?”
Some parents she knows have no other choice but to leave work early to take care of their kids.
“I even have a co-worker who is allowed to leave her job to go pick up her children to bring them to another boys and girls program at another school, just for that purpose,” Munoz said. “People might even consider taking their kid out of school to put them in somewhere else because what options do they have? There’s got to be a better way than this. It’s just craziness. It’s causing quite a dilemma for parents. And I’m a grandparent who works too, so it affects all of us.”