HONOLULU (KHON2) — At least one school pivoted to distance learning for a day amid the rise of COVID cases. Waianae Intermediate principal John Wataoka let parents and students know Sunday not to show up to class on Monday.

Part of his letter said, “This past week, our community has experienced a surge in the number of positive COVID cases which has greatly impacted our students, staff, and our families. With this surge comes an increased number of individuals that must remain at home due to their illness. Unfortunately, this impact has caused a major disruption on our school campus.”

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The Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui said schools are scrambling.

“We’ve been asking the department to sit down with HSTA to work out so that if a school has to go through this route, they have a template to follow,” Tui said. “They have something right now, all the schools throughout the state are just scrambling to come up with their own rules, their own processes and procedures, unfortunately.”

Mid Pacific is also doing distance learning for its middle and high school students starting Wednesday through January 21.

“We have prioritized in-person learning for preschool and elementary students since 2020 because we understand the significant challenges associated with virtual learning at younger ages,” Mid-Pacific Institute President Paul Turnbull said. “We are able to continue on-campus learning for our preschool and elementary students because we have a greater ability to contact trace and quarantine smaller grade cohorts. That is important because some members of our COVID contact tracing team who were exposed to COVID-positive individuals are currently quarantining at home. When the full team is able to return to campus we will resume in-person instruction for all grades.”

The school said its athletic program will continue as scheduled.

Tui said it is becoming less uncommon to see half a classroom absent, and teachers also missing class. He said on Friday the Department of Education got more than 1,500 requests for substitute teachers.

Some schools are having students sit inside common areas where they could be supervised, but this also affects the student’s learning time.

Tui said, “So when the students are told, come in, because in-person learning is the best, but they come in, and they just have to sit on, sit on their phones all day in the cafeteria, that’s doing them a disservice actually.”

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KHON 2 News reached out to the DOE for comment. The DOE provided the following statement.

Due to multiple teachers being out without substitute teacher coverage, some students are being supervised in the cafeteria or gym if there is no teacher available for one of their periods.

For the majority of the school day, most students are in classes and instruction is being provided. Non-teaching staff from the Castle-Kahuku Complex Area have been deployed to help with coverage.

The Department’s Health and Safety guidance – which is aligned to DOH and CDC guidance for schools – acknowledges that social distancing cannot always be maintained in school settings. That’s why layered core essential strategies are key. The guidance is intentionally layered and flexible. Core essential strategies include promoting vaccination among eligible students and staff, directing staff and students to stay home when sick, correct and consistent masking indoors, and hand hygiene. Other strategies, such as physical distancing, are applied to the greatest extent possible.