HONOLULU (KHON2) — School bells will ring in just a week as classes for public schools across the state start next Tuesday.
Teachers and administrators are now preparing to follow guidelines for in-person learning as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to surge across the state.
Mask wearing will be paramount in elementary schools, where currently nearly all students are ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Wearing masks, we had 450 kids here every day for four months,” Aikahi Elementary School principal Keoki Fraser said. “They wore the masks. They love seeing their friends more so than any particular issue they had with the mask-wearing.”
Cohorts called “ohana bubbles” keep students in small groups.
“If you have for example five different cohorts going at recess whereas before that was one cohort you need more staff with eyes on the kids so it’s just understanding and making it work for your school is the biggest challenge,” Fraser said.
Another key to keeping students safe is airflow.
“Open-air ventilation is a great inexpensive way to address ventilation very easily,” Hawaii acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said. “There are some schools where air conditioning may be required depending on the external environments and climate.”
The Department of Education earmarked some of its federal COVID funding toward upgrading air conditioning systems in schools, buying high-efficiency or HEPA air filters that the CDC says can help filter out the virus.
“We’ve got the HEPA filters and we’ve got people to come in to do the assessments to make sure that air quality was good,” Fraser said. “We’ve got a bunch of fans to increase the airflow in the classroom.”
Something many schools are hoping to bring back this year is sports and extracurricular activities. For that, the health department isn’t making any specific rules but does say schools need to consider the risks.
“We’re still trying to ask some clarifying questions but we want to offer as much as we can to the kids so that they can get back to as much learning as we can be able to provide,” Fraser said.
As far as sports go, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association says they’re moving forward with sports to start this fall, with football scheduled to kick off on Aug. 6.