Islands to decide on school reopenings

  • New guideline that school officials will use to determine their learning model for their schools, which updates every Friday on DOH’s website.

HONOLULU — Via Gov. David Ige’s Thursday press conference, the state Department of Education announced they will use a newly released guidance from the state Department of Health to plan for appropriate learning models for the remainder of the current school year.

With the new health policy guidance in hand, planning and decision-making for the second quarter, which runs from Oct. 12 to Dec. 18, can begin, and will be done at the complex-area level.

The DOH metrics outline five levels of community transmission of COVID-19 that would trigger corresponding learning model parameters for schools to consider and to assist with decision-making. The DOE will use the metrics to look at case activity within counties and by complex area.

Using O‘ahu as an example, with a population of 974,563 and a total of 1,937 cases from Sept. 1 to 14, there were 19.9 cases per 10,000 for the 14-day period.

“The safety of our students, teachers, staff and leaders remains our highest priority,” said Dr. Christina Kishimoto, DOE superintendent.

“We appreciate having benchmarks that will allow our schools to move forward safely, strategically, and based on sound data from our health experts,” she said. “The wide variation we’re seeing in case counts within individual communities means that we cannot adopt a statewide approach for all schools.

“These triggers provide a benchmark for schools to use in carefully and safely planning for increased on-campus access for students beginning with quarter 2, as appropriate,” said Kishimoto.

During this transition, individual school plans could include such modifications as increasing the number of vulnerable students who have access to in-person instruction. Vulnerable students vary among schools and may include, for example, students who require specialized learning services, students who need additional academic support, students in key transition grades, and students who lack internet access.

Second-quarter plans

As schools plan for a gradual roll-out of blended learning opportunities and continue to monitor COVID-19 case activity in their communities against the DOH metrics, parents should anticipate the second quarter will begin as a continuation of learning from home. As decisions are made, schools will communicate with families.

Most schools have been delivering instruction via distance learning since the start of the school year. The DOE extended that mode of instruction from an initial four weeks to the entire first quarter based on conditions at the time. The first quarter ends Oct. 2.

Kishimoto said for parents who have chosen to keep their children at home, the DOE will honor their decisions.

“We will continue the options that parents can opt for learning from home for the semester or the year,” Kishimoto said. “Those families that opted for permanent learn from home will continue to learn from home.”

Health protocols

As far as protocols regarding when a school has a positive case, Kishimoto said they do have a system that the DOE and schools will follow.

“We have two protocols when there is a suspected case or confirmed case,” Kishimoto said. “Closing down the area where the individual has worked for some amount of time, cleaning the areas, ensuring they were fogged and cleaned before they reopen.”

Kishimoto said DOE will send teachers home to work from home while they quarantine, and will welcome them back when they get cleared to by their own physician and by the DOH.

Kaua‘i timelines

Kishimoto was asked whether Kaua‘i public schools would have a sooner reopening date than the other islands because of low counts of COVID-19.

“I am giving those leaders the opportunity to continue and to finalize those conversations with the principals and the complex area superintendents,” Kishimoto replied. “All four county mayors have been in conversations with our complex area superintendents, and I appreciate their availability to be able to roll out these plans.

“I do not have a timeline yet. Again, we are awaiting to ensure the DOH measures were released today, that we are using, their officially-filed policy structure, as our guidance, and now our schools and superintended will continue their conversations, which they already started in light of what is officially filed in the DOE website as threshold, so we appreciate that,” said Kishimoto.

Teachers respond

Shortly after Ige’s conference, the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association held their own live conference on their Facebook page.

HSTA’s President Corey Rosenlee shared his thoughts on the thresholds given by the DOE Thursday morning.

“I am just shocked, looking at these metrics. These metrics are so far out of what is happening in the rest of this country that it’s not only going to put our teachers and our students but the entire community at risk,” Rosenlee said. “This is dangerous.”

“Today when they were talking and I heard the acting epidemiologist say ‘we expect increased cases in our schools,’” that immediately was a cause for concern, he said.

“Those are not just numbers. Those are our keiki. Those are our teachers. Just this week we had a staff member pass away due to the coronavirus, and that’s the last thing we want for our schools,” said Rosenlee.

According to Rosenlee, the standards announced Thursday by the DOE looked like they were thrown together without any conversations with those who are actually in the classrooms.

“The union was not consulted, therefore we were looking at these numbers and we can realize quickly some of the mistakes they were making and some of the things that are just not going to work,” said Rosenlee.

The guidance metrics are updated every Friday on the DOH website, health.hawaii.gov/.

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Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.

5 Comments
  1. John September 18, 2020 8:35 am Reply

    HSTA was not “consulted” because they are a bunch of misinformed goons with absolutely NO data, metrics or numbers to justify their unreasonable demands. The are insisting on one general statewide rule to pertain to ALL schools regardless of island or complex – WHY? because they simply don’t have the capacity or resources to conduct their own complex-by-complex studies on how to re-open Hawaii schools, so they just said “Shut ’em all down!”

    One must ask why HSTA so desperately want to keep Hawaii schools closed across the board indefinitely? I personally suspect the reason is because, according to rumor, next year they will be doubling their union dues (fees paid to them directly from HI teachers’ paychecks) so they want to give those teachers as much of a paid stay-at-home holiday as they can now so that the teachers won’t complain (or quit the union) once they raise their dues. “Hey, we let you work from home for a whole year, now pay us more!”

    Even if that is just an unfounded rumor, Kauai residents should still be asking why HSTA categorically refuse to consider re-opening schools according to the unique situations of each complex/island, because the real answer is not what they are telling us.


    1. Crystal Gauna September 20, 2020 1:32 pm Reply

      John, I agreed with you until you got to the part about teachers having a holiday. Nothing about this has provided teachers with a break!

      Normally, as in before the pandemic, I would stay at school until five every day because I am constantly reworking my curriculum to make it as relevant and accessible for my current students as possible, in addition to basic prepping, grading/providing feedback, contacting parents, meetings, etc.

      With how things are now, it’s even more work for teachers despite students learning less content due to it being a new format for them and parents, not always having enough educational support at home, limits in how well teachers can support students through email and live online sessions, glitchy computers, etc etc etc.

      Nobody has gotten a break, nobody is living up to the measure of success we would normally prefer and require, nobody is thriving right now. I look forward to having my students back in my classroom.


  2. rk669 September 18, 2020 10:24 am Reply

    Get rid of the Teachers Unions,they are out for themselves! They’re only interested in their own Gains,retirement,Pensions,What SHAME!
    We need School Vouchers so we can send our kids to the same schools as our Political Leaders! Even Steven! Why should the political leaders Children get better Education than the Local Citizens children?


  3. truth808 September 19, 2020 11:16 am Reply

    Rosenlee is a young guy who, as the elected HSTA President, is obligated to always publicly proclaim unjustice and shout, “NO! NO! NO!” claiming to be protecting teachers and students from Covid-19. But looking at the statistics, many students and teachers want to go back, especially on Kauai. Therefore, who is Rosenlee really representing, is he listening to his constituents? Clearly he is not. HSTA was not consulted because this is about facts, science, and statistics.


  4. DasRight September 20, 2020 6:12 am Reply

    I am a teacher and I pay my HSTA dues for them to represent me. But they don’t. I want the schools to reopen too! I have many parent friends who are suffering with their kids at home. How are they supposed to go to work?! I know a school counselor In Oahu who tells me that she is seeing high cases of depression, and her high schoolers are failing their classes at a much higher rate, or just dropping off the radar. There is a already a big effect our kids’ mental heath, and their growing learning gaps will last for a very very long time. To me, by keeping kids at home longer, it will make our job waaaaaay more difficult when school is back in session. There is a lot we can’t teach effectively online. We will have so much to catch up on. Teachers will have to do a lot of reteaching, interventions, relearning routines…. will we be able to get kids back to up grade level standards? do they realize this? Sorry, but Rosenlee does NOT represent me and a lot of other teachers I’ve spoken to who also want schools to reopen.


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