DOE lays out plan to reopen for the new school year

Coronavirus

The Department of Education released its reopening plan for the upcoming school year. But the teachers union still has some safety concerns. Public schools will be reopening on August 4, and the state says it’s committed to maintaining 180 instructional days in the new school year. How it plans to do that will vary from school to school. One of the issues the Hawaii State Teachers Association has is about social distancing.

Every campus has been given pre-approved instruction models to choose from and has until July 8 to finalize their decisions. What’s being considered, for example, at the elementary level: face-to-face instruction, a blended rotation where one group comes to campus while another group studies online, or a hybrid of the two. The models selected will depend on spacing, enrollment, and staffing levels.

“Special education students, students who are English language learners, and students who have conditions that really need in-person instruction, they are being prioritized to maximize time on campus with a teacher,” said Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.

Educators also plan on implementing cohorts or bubbles to keep the same group of students with the same staff throughout the day.

“So that only limited number of people are in close contact with one another if there is a problem, we will have a defined group of close contacts where we can quarantine without shutting down the entire schools,” said Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson.

When it comes to health and safety, face coverings must be worn when outside of the classroom. But students and teachers are not required to wear masks in the classroom setting, where the class is considered a cohort. Physical distance must be maintained of at least 3-feet between seats. At least 6-feet if students are facing each other. But Corey Rosenlee of the HSTA says positioning desks 3-feet apart put children and teachers at risk.

“Returning to a 3-foot policy after coming to an agreement with HSTA on a 6-foot standard is disingenuous,” said Rosenlee. “The CDC recommends at least putting a desk 6-feet apart when feasible to reduce risk. The CDC characterizes students who are not spaced apart as being at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19.”

In response, the state says 6-feet apart in the school setting is not always feasible. The 3-feet minimum distancing guidance for students not facing each other was recommended by the state’s Health Department.

The state says while face-to-face instruction is preferred, there may be situations in which parents may choose virtual learning only. There are E-School courses ready only for grades 6th through 12th.

As for after school care, Kishimoto says it’s up to each principal as to when to start the program.

“Once they feel solid on their operational strategies then they can implement their after school programs. They don’t need the approval to do that. They can go ahead and start doing that,” she said.

Kishimoto says schools have the first two weeks of instruction to ensure their new safety procedures are working and don’t need adjustments before they can start after school care.

To view the state’s reopening plan, click here.

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