HONOLULU (KHON2) — The first day of school is less than two weeks away, and amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Department of Education (DOE) just released details regarding distance learning options for schools across the state.

Information on the DOE website, outlines which schools will offer distance learning, the level of teacher interaction and whether they are accepting geographic exceptions.

While the majority of students will return to in-person classes, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said between 1% and 5% of families are opting for distance learning. Since online class options are the kuleana of area complex, those options differ from one area to the next.

In a statement, Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said: “We continue to work closely with the state Department of Health to ensure we have clear guidance and COVID-related data to inform decision-making for our schools.”

At least 12 elementary schools in the central Oahu school district are geared up and ready to go.

“Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School is going to be the host site for a complex wide, distance learning opportunity for Leilehua, Mililani and Waialua students this year,” said Esther Kwon, a teacher at the elementary school.

They’re calling their program the Pineapple Academy.

“Each grade will be assigned a teacher from our school,” Kwon explained.

She will be the 5th grade distance learning teacher. Kwon said they’ll work with students online daily and are putting priority on social-emotional learning.

“We’re trying to create opportunities for students to collaborate and chat through those web conferencing times.”

They’ve been working on their program since the spring.

While they are prepared, parents in other districts still had no clue what their options were.

Amanda Ka’ahanui’s son will be a senior at Kalaheo High School this year.

“We don’t know yet,” Ka’ahanui said. “I actually just asked the school. Yesterday, we asked them, and they said they haven’t heard anything… I feel like we just sort of dropped the ball.”

Marika Bertram has two kids in public schools: one is going into second grade and the other is in kindergarten in the Kailua/Kalaheo school district. She said she still has many questions.

“All I’ve been told is that there are no other kids in their school that are their ages that are going to be distance learning,” Bertram said. “I really hope that there is this type of option for parents like me. I know I’d love my kids to be able to go to school in person, but health is first and foremost.”

Her son has multiple underlying health issues, but her daughter does not. Bertram said she still doesn’t know if her daughter will be allowed to distance learn too.

“She doesn’t have medical issues, but if she goes to school, she could potentially be bringing home COVID-19, which could be devastating for my son,” Bertram explained.

According to the DOE website, there are six areas not offering distance learning due to low demand:
Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani (high school grades only); Hilo-Waiakea (high school grades only); Castle-Kahuku (high school grades only); Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui (high school grades only); Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai (elementary grades only) and Kailua-Kalaheo (elementary grades only).

The DOE will partner with those areas “to pool resources and expertise and reduce the burden on individual schools” to provide distance learning options per the Board of Education resolution.

Parents are advised to work with their school principal to discuss options.