Hawaii DOE still working out kinks of distance learning

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — More than two weeks into the school year and Hawaii’s K-12 campuses are still working out the kinks of distance learning.

Public schools fully reopened to in-person learning, but amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, more parents are opting for distance learning.

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Department of Education (DOE) officials said that more than 2,300 students are in distance programs at schools, another 660 preferred State programs.

The DOE said the waitlist will shrink as more teachers are hired, but it is not just the voluntary distance programs that are facing challenges; Schools also have to plan for distance learning when kids face quarantine shutdowns.

Hawaii’s public, private and charter schools are trying to navigate a delta wave that is likely to leave no campus untouched.

Always Investigating found out the DOE has no universal backup plan to provide class-wide or school-wide learning continuity during partial or full closures due to COVID-19 exposure at Hawaii’s nearly 260 public schools.

Students would be provided with make-up work to help keep them on track — either online resources or paper packets — and that could be for an entire class that has to quarantine. The DOE said the specific response would vary depending on the situation.

“There is a constitutional mandate to deliver public education to those who are enrolled in the public school system, said Ray L’Heureux with the Education Institute of Hawaii.  “So all the lesson learned that came out of last school year should have been this entire summer. Yes, I know. administrators were tired, but you have to put a plan on the shelf. Okay, if this ever happens again, this is how we’re going to do it and you start having those pieces on the shelf to be able to plug and play. That doesn’t look like that happened at all.”

Private schools are coping with the same challenges. Hawaii’s 112 campuses will pull 2020 plans back off the shelf if and when a classroom, or a whole school, has to quarantine.

“I do know one of our schools had some cases and when one of the neighbor islands and the health department came in and initially just shut down one classroom, but they but it spread already to a second classroom,” said Philip Bossert with the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools. “They basically shut the school down for two weeks to basically quarantine everybody.”

Many of Hawaii’s public charter schools have been able to shift online, with all charters authorized “to provide whichever mode of education they are able to safely provide given the level of COVID-19 infections in their counties.” That is happening now for 2,300 kids across seven schools temporarily in COVID-caused distance learning.

Schools are expecting it to become more frequent and more in-demand.

“They are getting pushback from parents saying ‘no, I’m just not going to send my kid right now,’” Bosset said.  “And so the schools are having to see what they can put together pretty quick for some remote learning.”

In most cases where there is exposure, everyone in any classroom considered a close contact needs to quarantine for 10 days. The Hawaii State Teachers Union pointed out the metrics that governed openings in 2020 are absent this time around

“What’s the trigger number, there isn’t a trigger number for moving an entire school to full distance,” said Logan Okita, HSTA vice president. “And in pausing campus business in order to control the spread, we don’t have a number that says, ‘we have spread on campus and we need to implement stronger measures.’”

The public school Board of Education heard from teachers and parents in testimony Wednesday afternoon that more and more kids are being sent to quarantine from school exposure, and others are being turned away from precautionary distance learning.

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The new interim superintendent presented a plan that repeated limited distance learning options and emphasized what he called a 3-1-1 approach to safe in-school learning.

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