HONOLULU(KHON2) — The Board of Education (BOE) will review the Department of Education’s (DOE) plan to reopen public schools during a meeting on Sept. 17.

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While teachers and parents agree physically being at school is the best place for island keiki to learn, many said that distance learning through the second quarter is preferred given the current situation.

“HSTA’s position is that we should have distance learning for the entire first semester,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee. “Looking at cases across the country and across the world unfortunately there’s been no good examples that have been able to open schools effectively without an increase in (COVID-19) cases for students, teachers and the whole community.”

“We would love to see them back if they can find a way to do it safely,” said Rachel Coel, whose son is in the fifth grade.

“I know that COVID numbers are going down but I don’t see a significant enough change right now to justify returning to in-person learning,” said Kalani High School English Teacher Brooke Nasser.

Safety is the main concern, and is the only reason many think the DOE should continue distance learning through the first semester, despite its challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges has been technological difficulties. They may be doing the work but they’re not always seeming to get credit for it because something doesn’t get submitted the way we thought it should or there’s a glitch in the system,” Coel explained.

Nasser agrees that technical problems one of the biggest hurdles.

“A lot of my students are sharing workspaces with siblings and WIFI with siblings and that makes it difficult.”

Nasser said that as a teacher, she has found not seeing her students to be another major drawback.

“I find it very difficult when students don’t turn on their video cameras. Some of my students I’ve never seen yet so far this year. As a teacher, you’re constantly responding to feedback you’re getting from students and I don’t receive that in the same way that I’m used to,” she said.

With so many issues with distance learning, Nasser said she did notice a few good things about it.

“There’s been some really unexpected positives. Now that students can use the chat function on group discussions, I’m seeing close to 100% engagement and participation. In high school level often students are really reluctant to share their thoughts with their classmates, they don’t want to look silly, they don’t want to have the wrong answer. But in this new learning platform, they’re way more willing to share because there’s a distance. And so that has improved learning tremendously,” she explained.

Regardless of the pros and cons, Nasser said it still makes more sense to stay the course rather than move to a hybrid schedule in October.

“We’re all adjusting and then to suddenly say, ‘No we’re going back to hybrid.’ Now we all have to figure out how to make hybrid work? It just seems like more learning will be lost and we’ve all lost so much this year.”

Rosenlee said teachers and students need consistency.

“Going to school stopping, going to distance learning is so disruptive and doesn’t allow for teachers to plan. We’ve all gotten into the habit of doing distance learning. Our teachers are in a groove, and there’s a deep concern if we go back, we know what’s going to happen,” Rosenlee explained.

The DOE posts COVID-19 cases within school complex areas statewide each week on its website. According to the website, so far they’ve had 89 cases since June. Eleven cases of those cases have been in the last week.

The BOE will review the DOE’s current reopening plan in their Sept. 17 meeting. A DOE spokesperson said they will make an important announcement later this week.

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