LIHU‘E — According to Hawai‘i Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi, COVID-19 safety mitigation efforts are working in schools.
“We continue to practice the core mitigation strategies of encouraging vaccinations, staying home when sick, consistent and correct mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene,” Hayashi told the state’s House Committee on Education during a Wednesday meeting. “Other strategies such as designated cohorts, improving ventilation, physical distancing, screening, testing, and cleaning and disinfection should be applied in a combination to the greatest extent possible.”
Elected officials were briefed on COVID-19 mitigation measures in public schools and learned about a new program to provide free COVID testing at some schools.
“Our schools are currently in the process of registering for these opportunities and training their staff. Once established, testing will be available to any student staff or household member that provides the required consent,” said Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami. “Expanded testing opportunities will also provide convenient access for staff as part of the department’s testing mandate.”
Aug. 30 marked the beginning of the state’s imposed requirement that all state and county public employees, including those under HIDOE, be tested for COVID-19 once a week. If an employee certifies and provides proof of vaccination, they are not subject to the weekly testing.
As of Sept. 8, 89% of salaried HIDOE employees are fully vaccinated or have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Kaua‘i Area Complex is on the lower end of vaccination rates in the state with about 84% vaccinated.
Health and safety measures are working, HIDOE administrators reiterated.
“It is clear that increased level of transmission seen in the broader community is not reflected in our schools. There continues to be no evidence of large clusters in our schools because of the mitigation strategies that we are enforcing,” said Hayashi.
Representatives voiced concerns that there may not be enough access to distanced learning.
“Of course, we all want the kids to be able to attend school in person safely,” said Rep. Nicole Lowen (District 6). “I think everybody was caught a little bit by surprise by the delta variant surge and how quickly the numbers increased… I think it would be important for conversations to be happening within DOE if there is a need to have flexibility or to quickly pivot.”
While HIDOE has contingency plans in place should schools need to shut down at any point, the department is focused on making sure that in-person learning is safe and accessible. “As we opened up this year, our goal was to make sure that there was a seat for every student for in-person learning,” said Unebasami.
Elected officials echoed the value of providing in-person learning for the majority of students.
“I’m a public school parent who’s very concerned about the risk, but I want that in-person learning as well,” Rep. Della Au Belatti (District 24) said. “So every day that we fight to keep the schools open, I appreciate that opportunity for my student to go into in-person learning.”
As of Sept. 7, there have been 2,454 cases reported in public schools throughout the state since July 1.
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.