HONOLULU– Thursday, concerns about reopening schools too early were discussed between the (DOE) Department of Education, Department of Health, and the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 at the State Capitol.
The members of the special committee are Senators Donovan Dela Cruz, Jarrett Keohokalole, Michelle Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Sharon Moriwaki, and Kurt Fevella. It was aired live and senators responded to comments emailed in from educators, parents and community members from across the state. Main concerns surrounded the lack of time to train teachers and staff.
“There are teachers who are emailing me right now, who are listening in that feel they are not trained properly and need more time to train,” said Senator Donna Mercado Kim, reading an anonymous message from a teacher listening to the meeting. ““We been on vacation, how can we have trained? How can we lesson plans for face-to-face and virtual plans? We only have one body.”
Invited speakers included Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto, Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson, and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.
Kishimoto said the DOE started training teachers in March and recently held a training pilot for teachers on social distance precautions, and on how to teach students that choose virtual learning.
Kishimoto confirmed the training pilot started three weeks ago, and out of 17,000 teachers, only 7000 have been trained so far.
Then the meeting quickly got heated when Senator Kurt Fevella asked Kishimoto who decided on the opening date.
“The Board of Education decides on the opening date and the school’s schedule,” said Kishimoto. “I just make a recommendation.”
Fevella said there are teachers that need more time, and suggested holding off from reopening until after Labor Day in September.
Another question that the Senators asked was why DOE was not going to check temperatures of the students at each school.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said it was not the school’s responsibility to check the student’s temperature but the parents.
“What we don’t want is have the schools become medical providers, it should not be the responsibility of a business or school,” said Park. “It’s the parent’s responsibility to let the school know that their child has a fever or is feeling sick.
Park explained currently DOE is planning for teachers to provide students with a daily health check questionnaire and partner with parents to report any symptoms.
Park said parents and teachers will be educated on the safety precautions and procedures each class will have, and she hopes all the students will practice safety measures.
Favella voiced other concerns about opening schools too soon — concerns about how some families are going to obtain school supplies, about the potential for spreading infection, and the dangers of having too many people in one room during the pandemic.
“In my district, it’s not one dad, one mom, one child, and a white picnic fence…we have a kupuna and several people in a home,” said Fevella. “My neighbor a Filipino family has 15 people in one home across the street from me, which is more than a classroom size you speak of.”
He continued with a perplexed look on his face: “In Eva Beach and Kapolei, we are in a red zone, and yet we going send our kids to school who might infect others?”
Kishimoto listened but could not give the Senators clear answers, which led to more concerns. Further discussions on the topic are scheduled in the near future.
The Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent’s Office was contacted for comment, but could not provide a statement before publication.
Stephanie Shinno, community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.