HONOLULU — There were mixed feelings regarding the state Board of Education’s resolution on the opening of schools for the 2021-22 school year during the board’s virtual meeting on Thursday.
The resolution encourages vaccination in public schools and communities, communicating with families on school-safety measures, offering distance-learning options, and relying on the state Department of Health for advice and guidance on all COVID-19-related health matters.
In the proposal to the board, BOE Chairperson Catherine Payne said she believes that in-person instruction remains the preferred instructional-delivery method for most students, and that COVID-19 vaccination is an important key to get as many students and teachers as possible back in physical classrooms quickly and safely.
Payne pointed out that one of the most significant changes from last year is the availability of effective COVID-19 vaccinations for individuals over the age of 12.
According to Payne, the BOE nor state Department of Education have the authority to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for students to attend school, which is the purview of the state Department of Health.
“I believe, however, that it is important for the board to encourage schools and their communities to vaccinate as many people as possible to help us bring our students and staff back into the classrooms quickly and safely,” Payne said.
In order for public schools and communities to break barriers to vaccination, Payne suggested hosting mobile-vaccination sites to provide access, sharing personal stories, and ensuring vaccination information is distributed in languages common to the school community while educating students, families and communities about vaccination.
“I would like to encourage schools to reach out to families, particularly those that are reluctant to send their children back to a school campus, to explain what the schools are doing to ensure the health and safety of their children,” Payne said.
“There are still families who are not comfortable with sending their children to a school campus, or whose children have performed well in a distance-learning setting,” Payne said. “I want to ensure that as many students as possible have an option in public education and are not forced to exit the public-education system.”
The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association wrote a letter in support of the board’s resolution, with a recommendation.
“HSTA also supports the BOE, DOE and public charter schools seeking out the best and most-reliable health guidance as it relates to the response to COVID-19,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said. “However, HSTA recommends in addition to seeking guidance from the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, the DOE should also seek guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
One year ago, Rosemarie Jauch of Kalaheo moved to Kaua‘i with her 11-year-old daughter from Arizona in hopes of finding a school that would consistently stay open and provide accommodations for her child’s learning needs.
“She has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). And it took me two years to go through all of the evaluations. I finally got it in Tucson,” Jauch said.
As Jauch moved to Kaua‘i in March of 2020, private schools on island had waitlists, which left her with few options for her daughter. However, Jauch selected Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Charter School.
“Strictly on the basis of they were open face-to-face,” Jauch said. “And then they shuttered. A child that has (ADHD), no any child, you can’t plop them in front of a computer for five hours a day and expect any learning to happen. So I would say that distance learning is a complete and utter failure.”
Kristin Matsuda of Lihu‘e, a mother of three children in public schools, also expressed her frustrations.
“Discontinue both the mentally and any structure/administrative mechanism that requires statewide rules for COVID and schools,” Matsuda said. “Communication with parents would be nice if it actually occurred, and if the information were accurate.”