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.
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.”
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.
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.
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/.
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.