LIHU‘E — The parking lot at the ‘Ele‘ele Elementary School was nearly to capacity Tuesday.
Activity on campus was quiet, save the occasional person crossing campus to a classroom. Where were the students?
“Today is a West Complex Professional Development Day,” said Alyssa Carveiro, the ‘Ele‘ele School principal. “That means all Department of Education schools from Koloa Elementary School, west are involved in Professional Development. There are no students. They start coming back starting Wednesday. I just got through teaching a class with Sean Doi from the central DOE office.”
Save the last-minute errands being done by parents checking on missing school uniforms, bus rides, and staff getting final signatures on clearance forms, the school’s office was busy as the group of instructors took their lunch break.
Carveiro anticipates smooth sailing when the school’s approximately 430 students return.
“We have 30 teachers and nearly 80 staff,” the ‘Ele‘ele School principal said. “We’re shy two teachers, but we could accommodate the overflow with our current resources.”
East of Koloa School, the Elsie Wilcox Elementary School in Lihu‘e welcomed back more than 700 students on the DOE’s first day of school to an atmosphere focused on the health and safety of the students.
“This is where we were when school let out for the summer,” said Cory Nakamura, the Wilcox School principal. “The only difference is in distance learning. That’s been taken over by the state, but we have to do the paperwork.”
Face masks are worn at all times in school except while eating, drinking, or having snacks, and everyone practices social distancing.
“Even snacks are limited to within the classroom bubbles,” he said. “Our indoor spacing is 3 feet, and outdoors, it’s 6 feet, and with face masks on. Everyone knows how the playground areas have been marked off, and the students observe that.”
DOE Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi penned a letter in which he thanked the parents and guardians of students for their concerns on students returning to the classroom.
“As Interim Superintendent, my highest priority is ensuring every student has the opportunity to safely return to the classroom,” Hayashi said in his Aug. 3 letter. “Beyond instructional benefits, in-person learning contributes to the overall well-being of our keiki — from the availability of social and emotional support resources to food security provided through school meal programs.”
Hayashi noted that schools have demonstrated that in-person learning can be done safely.
“Nearly one-third of public schools welcomed students back for full in-person learning during the final quarter of the last school year,” he said. “More than 26,000 students enrolled in summer learning opportunities with most students participating in face-to-face learning.”
The superintendent noted that Hawai‘i is still in a pandemic, and the DOE continues to operate under the pandemic conditions.
“Consistent adherence to safety protocols has resulted in extremely limited transmission of the virus at Department of Education facilities, and we are committed to keeping it that way,” he said. “Still, because schools are a reflection of their communities, we know an uptick in cases is expected as we bring more students back to campus.”