As new school year approaches, plans to bring students back remain unclear

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Department of Health is currently revising school guidance, but with two weeks until school starts, there’s still a lot of uncertainty.

The DOH hasn’t said exactly what will change, but with just two weeks until school starts, some educators say they’re still trying to figure things out.

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases is a curve ball for the Department of Education. It planned to bring public school students in all grade levels back to the classroom this fall, but with COVID-19 cases spiking, concern is growing.

“What’s more concerning is that none of our students are eligible to be vaccinated,” said Glen Iwamoto, principal of Waimalu Elementary School. “I think that’s where we’re kind of a little bit weary. We do know that the Delta variant is more contagious.”

Waimalu Elementary School is spacing out desk at least 3-feet apart in classrooms, but Iwamoto says, they’re still figuring it out.

“Six feet is just not possible anymore with all of our students,” Iwamoto said. “Even three feet in some of our classrooms may be difficult.:

Another place of concern for COVID-19 transmission, the cafeteria.

“Right now, we’re working on getting barriers installed between students to at least protect them that way, because that is the one time that they will be unmasked,” Iwamoto said.

Meanwhile, Joey Lee’s daughter will enter third grade this year. She says transparency from schools will be critical in keeping everyone safe.

“We had a few instances where there were scares or a couple of cases over the past school year and over the summer, but I don’t have any concerns,” said Joey Lee, a parent of a public school student. “I think the faculty and the staff have their plan and their information together. They do a really good job of communicating with the parents.”

As of July 7, Hawaii law requires DOE to include school names, date a positive test was reported to a school, and the date the sick person was last on a school campus in its weekly COVID-19 case report.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are also lending a helping hand in keeping classrooms safe.

“This past year, the legislature did appropriate money to the Department of Education,” said Rep. Jeanne Kapela, (D) Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, and Kailua-Kona. “I’m hopeful that it’s going to be used specifically for HEPA filters or bringing in more air filtration into our classrooms. Especially those that don’t have maybe windows or the possibility to have free flowing air coming into the classroom as easily as others.”

Will all students be back in the classroom is still an unanswered question. Under current DOE guidelines, with the current case count and positivity rate, students may still be spending at least some of their time learning from home.

Last week, the Board of Education voted in favor of offering distance learning for families that request it, but how that will be offered has yet to be completely ironed out.

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