Pandemic alters students’ early-learning

HONOLULU — On Tuesday, the state House held a virtual meeting to discuss how early-learning programs in Hawai’i have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lauren Moriguchi, director of the Executive Office on Early Learning, said the public prekindergarten program’s capacity has been reduced to protect staff and students.

“As we ensure that teachers and educational assistants can safely care for and educate our 4-year-olds in person, our enrollment this year is at 55% of what our capacity would have been without the pandemic,” she said.

Moriguchi said there are three ongoing challenges that students, teachers and parents face this year in early-learning programs:

• Managing emotional and physical well-being with less social connection and support while providing a learning environment that young children need within an evolving landscape;

• Providing a level and depth of professional-learning-related guidance, coaching and mentoring, particularly for new schools and new teaching staff;

• Engaging in collaboration and coordination, particularly with complex, multi-dimensional work.

“We are working to transition the few remaining virtual public prekindergarten classes to in-person learning,” Moriguchi said. “Specifically, we are looking to move (to) 85 % to 95% (in-person learning) in January. So we are looking for all but one school offering in-person learning on campus during the third quarter.”

COVID-19 impact on public charter schools

Yvonne Lau, interim executive director of the Charter School Commission, discussed how the pandemic has impacted the state’s pubic charter schools.

There are currently 20% fewer seats available to meet physical-distancing requirements, sid Lau. And there has been a nearly-30% decrease in enrollment this school year compared to last school year.

In addition, 18 of 20 students who have exited the program did so due to the fear of COVID-19.

Lau said of the classrooms providing face-to-face instruction, 66% are operating at reduced hours. And despite COVID-19, schools are maintaining one teacher and one educational assistant per class.

As of today, 70% of the state public charter school students are in virtual instruction, 18% are face-to-face learning and 12% are in hybrid learning, a mixture of in-person and distance-learning.

“For the majority of our classrooms, they are working with a virtual learning model, and as we know for our youngest learners, this is quite the challenge,” Lau said. “At the heart of that challenge, our teachers are really doing amazing jobs of piecing that together and teaching in ways that they had not been prepared for.”

Some of the challenges Lau said she sees in charter schools include that the substitute-teacher pool has been reduced significantly, and that COVID-19 has impacted the schools’ ability to create routines for students.

COVID-19 impact on Head Start programs

Ben Naki, vice president of early childhood education programs at Head Start, said Head Start focuses services on children of low-income families and is designed to address children and families’ emotional, social health, nutritional and psychological needs. Services are centered around the child, but encompass the entire family.

Naki said Early Head Start is for families with children under the age of 3, including prenatal mothers, whereas Head Start is for families with children ages 3 to 5 years old, with an emphasis on children preparing to enter kindergarten.

“Early Head Start and Head Start programs throughout the state promote each child’s individual development through services that support early learning, health and family well-being,” Naki said.

On Kaua‘i, Child & Family Service is the only entity providing Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Naki said Kaua‘i has four Head Start centers, but only two are currently open, with 45 students being taught in-person, 20 students taught virtually and 11 children served via home-based learning (virtually or in-person).

There are no Early Head Start centers open on Kaua‘i. Currently, 35 students are being served via home-based services, virtually or in-person.

Naki discussed the challenges that Early Head Start and Head Start faced during the pandemic: “The readiness of staff to resume in-person services, coverage because all of our agencies have been under the guide if they are not feeling well or people in their house are not feeling well, we ask them not to come to work. Of course, that will impact the ability to provide coverage in our classrooms,” Naki said.

Lack of qualified staff is another concern. “We are having to deal with not a lot of people applying for jobs.”

Other COVID-19 impacts

Other challenges that HS and EHS providers face during the pandemic are childcare options for staff; logistical concerns involving meeting the needs of families despite remote learning; partner organizations’ readiness of their facilities; connecting with families remotely and virtually; recruitment of new families; and meeting federal standards effectively, he said.

Cathy Betts, director of the state Department of Human Services, and Dana Balansag, child-care-program administrator of DHS, also spoke during the session. For more information, see


Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. Rick December 16, 2020 6:17 am Reply

    Can we fix title to say “pandemic response”. This is hardly due to any sort of real pandemic. Most people I know are suffering from the response. Mahalo

  2. Bluedream December 16, 2020 8:04 am Reply

    “Power drunk politicians alter early education”. There. I fixed it.

  3. Susan December 16, 2020 8:58 am Reply

    The way our keiki’s public school education in Hawaii has been handled during Covid has been absolutely SHAMEFUL!

    Both the Hawaii DOE and the teachers union (HSTA) used the pandemic as an excuse to give themselves a stay-at-home paycation. Even though teachers, parents and students all wanted to return to the classroom, the lazy DOE bureaucrats and the corrupt union leaders kicked up a big fuss about staying home. And we all know it had nothing to do with “protecting” students, like they claimed.

    Public education has long been at the very bottom of the priority list in Hawaii – it is the reason why we come in dead-last in all national school and education rankings. The sloths who work at the HI DOE are some of the most negligent bottom-feeders you will ever meet in government and have done NOTHING to help our students get ahead. They just sit there collecting their paychecks and benefits.

    And sadly, here in Kauai we have people like Kawakami and Paul Zina who refuse to stand up to Ige’s broken administration because they are playing a bigger game over the future of their political careers.

    None of them actually care about the keiki who have fallen one year behind in their learning and mental development from being forced to stay at home this past year, or the working-class parents who have had to quit their jobs to be at home with their children.

    Meanwhile, they and other rich people have their own kids in private schools that are operating 5 days per week as normal. Not a single one of those kids has caught Covid, and yet they want us to believe that public school students are somehow more at a risk.

    PARENTS – if you want Kauai’s public schools to open back up full time for the Spring semester, call or write Kawakami and Zina immediately – today!!! – and demand it. They will only listen to us once we stop being subservient and start being angry.

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