HONOLULU — Public schools are set to reopen on Aug. 4 with a plan to blend distance learning and face-to-face instruction, the Hawai‘i Department of Education announced Thursday.
HIDOE officials have created three instruction models each for elementary, middle and high schools for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, which take into account COVID-19 and its associated health and safety guidelines. Details of each of those models are included in the HIDOE “Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan”.
In Thursday’s announcement of the plan, HIDOE officials confirmed a dedication to maintaining the standard 180 instructional days in the school year and a commitment to “high-quality learning and equity of access”.
“As we move forward to reopen schools on August 4 for the fall semester, we know that the delivery of instruction in Hawai’i, across the nation and globally is going to look very different,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said of the reopening plan. “Our HIDOE ‘ohana has been diligently working on plans for the new school year, growing from our experience navigating a global pandemic and applying lessons learned.”
The three basic instruction models laid out by the DOE: full time face-to-face instruction for all students, a mix of face-to-face and distance learning that rotates students through the campus, and a hybrid blend of the two that would offer full time face-to-face instruction for students who need it as well as online or distance learning.
Officials said each individual school is choosing which model will fit best with their student body and will be informing families about selected models on July 8.
Other steps to help ensure safety during the upcoming school year include strict enforcement of physical distancing and face mask rules — especially in school buses and other student gathering places and opening windows to ensure maximum ventilation whenever possible. Meals will be individually plated and distancing precautions will be used in cafeterias. Other options for mealtime include students eating in their classrooms or in designated outdoor areas.
Staff will also be frequently sanitizing high-touch surfaces and visually monitoring the health of employees, visitors and students.
Temperature checks aren’t part of the plan, according to Kishimoto.
“We will not be doing temperature checks but we will train teachers how to do visual checks, making sure they know what to look for,” said Kishimoto in a press conference, Thursday. HIDOE said they worked closely with public health officials to develop guidelines around health and safety measures for reopening.
HIDOE said all public schools are preparing for the possibility of future school closures by increasing device accessibility to students, building teacher capacity for virtual engagement with their students, and course offerings for credits towards graduation.
Hawai‘i State Teacher Association (HSTA) President Corey Rosenlee voiced concerns about the reopening plan Thursday, saying all parents should get the chance to select a learning option that fits their child’s needs. Rosenlee said HSTA has concerns about distancing protocols, too, including a three-foot distancing rule between desks that “will only ensure that Hawai‘i will have to close their schools again and go back to a 100 percent virtual model.”
As parents look to the Aug. 4 reopening, they express mixed feelings about sending their children back to school.
Shantelle Rego, a parent of a student attending Wilcox Elementary School, said she’s been feeling some of those mixed feelings, herself.
“Like many other parents and guardians of children who attend public school, although happy that my child will be going to school, what sits in my mind is how well will the kids adapt to this new way of doing school and being a germaphobe myself, I am a little nervous and hope that all students with the help of staff will be able to practice good sanitation and safety measures so we can all have a great start to the school year,” said Rego.
Rego said after reviewing the models that were presented she wants to be able to give her own feedback on the models, especially since the schools are choosing which model will be implemented.
“My only thought on that was could there have been a survey on what parents thought of the models?” said Rego “Every child doesn’t learn at the same pace or level so I cannot say one model would work better than the other.”
Rego said she admits that the distancing learning that her child has done towards the ending of this past school year drove her a “bit crazy” while she tried to figure out the new methods.
“I don’t have a definite answer as to what I would prefer to do with my child because I know he learns a lot at school – all the teachers my child has had impacted him and he has loved each one,” said Rego. “It takes a special person to step into the classroom and take students with all sorts of personalities and learning abilities.”
She continued: “At this time, I pray that the schools are doing their utmost best in making safety priority especially during this (pandemic).”
Community members can submit written testimony on the reopening plan to Testimony.BOE@BOE.Hawaii.gov.
Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.