HONOLULU — The state Board of Education has approved the delay of welcoming students back to public-school campuses to Monday, Aug. 17.
The issue was on the agenda for a virtual Thursday BOE meeting, and more than 1,000 concerned parents, teachers and state Department of Education professionals listened in.
All board members were in favor of the delay except for board member Bruce Voss, an attorney from Honolulu.
“We have to reject it. We can’t say ‘later,’” said Voss.
“The students will not benefit from nine fewer instructional days of school,” said Voss in the meeting, explaining he wanted the schools to bring students back to campus on the initially-decided-upon date of Aug. 4. He suggested that most of the schools offer distance learning to most students, with an option for instruction in-person for the students who need more help with classes.
Concerns about welcoming students back to school on Aug. 4 include a lack of time for teachers to train, lack of personal protective equipment, as well as a lack of communication for the military families moving to Hawai‘i and enrolling students in classes this school year.
BOE military representative Capt. Lyn Yatko said military families need current communication from the DOE as they figure out what school their children will attend.
Yatko said Gov. David Ige gave military families coming to Hawai‘i an exemption to the 14-day quarantine rule.
“We can’t order families to quarantine,” said Yatko. “I have validation from talking to military families as they stay quarantined for two weeks and only leaving for key essential needs as they make the transition.”
Hawai‘i State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee and other teachers said they’ve also had frustrations with the lack of communication from the DOE, and that they still have unanswered questions about the upcoming start to the school year for students.
“We are very concerned that we had to find out about the eight cases of COVID-19 at the DOE Summer Fun through the media instead of getting it from the DOE or BOE,” said Rosenlee, citing the cases that were confirmed statewide in early July. “We would like the board or DOE to answer all of the safety questions submitted by all three unions before Aug. 17.”
State DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said the DOE plans to have a team of people at each school, monitoring activity as the campuses open up. Each team will report to the BOE every Friday on the status of each school and suggest necessary adjustments to keep the schools’ students and staff members safe.
As they gear up for the Aug. 17 reopening, there are schools that ordered PPE two months ago and still have not received their orders, and Kishimoto says they can’t reopen their campuses to students until those PPE are received. She said officials are aware of the possibility they’ll have to shuffle some PPE between campuses.
“I know the (neighbor island) schools are known to help out,” said Kishimoto. “I hope we don’t have to transfer PPE, but it’s important that the schools do get enough.”
State Sen. Kurt Favella of Ewa Beach gave his testimony in the first half of the agenda, and stressed the importance of delaying the reopening date for teachers to have more time to get prepared, for both the teachers and the students.
“If we have an emergency shutdown, I am afraid we will shut everything down again,” said Favella. “It’s premature to open. Our state cannot handle a full shutdown, and we need to do better for our children so they don’t have to miss out on their events like graduation and sports, which bring them scholarships.
BOE student representative Hunter Harris, a senior at Kapolei High, said, “If the teachers are comfortable going back to school, then the students are comfortable, too.”
Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.