HONOLULU (KHON2) — In a matter of weeks, many public schools will begin bringing students back to campus.

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Ahead of that, the Hawaii Department of Health released new guidance to help schools move forward.

The updated guidance includes new parameters for the state’s learning models to help schools decide whether they should start transitioning students back to the classroom.

There are five different tiers in the Department of Health’s learning models, with in-person learning, distance learning, balanced learning and tiers in between.

“The thresholds are there. There is a framework so that schools who are not sure, you know, how to think about where to go next and their learning models, have a framework they can follow … a roadmap to follow,” said DOH Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble.

The first step toward returning to the classroom has elementary school students returning to in-person classes through blended learning first.

“The thought is that for younger learners, in-person learning has clear benefits, and that’s the most critically important group to move toward in-person learning first,” said Kemble.

The number of COVID-19 cases is just one factor that schools have to take into account. Another factor they will have to consider is how well the school’s mitigation procedures, of enforcing mask-wearing policies, grouping students, and cleaning and sanitization, are working.

The Department of Health is recommending schools to take a minimum of two weeks to assess all these factors before transitioning to a new tier. Kemble said this will help teachers and parents prepare and make transitioning students back in class easier.

“That conversation was really about how much time the schools felt they needed in order to be ready for a transition in their models. It does take a lot of planning and energy on the part of the schools to transition from one model to another,” said Kemble.

Parents can keep track of what the recommendation is at the Department of Health’s website.

According to the website, Hawaii and Oahu island schools are recommended to do blended learning due to their average COVID-19 case numbers and COVID-19 test positivity rate. Other islands like Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai are recommended to open in-class learning.

However, Kemble said that the new model parameters are only a recommendation for schools. Ultimately, each school will have to make their own decision on if they want to move up a tier into another learning model or step back.

In response to the Department of Health’s updated COVID-19 guidance for schools, the Hawaii Department of Education sent KHON2 this statement:

The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) still needs to review the updated guidance released today by the Hawaii State Department of Health.

As of now, there are no changes to plans announced for the second quarter.

The HIDOE will review the updated guidance to understand the impact on the transition between school models, safety guidelines, and procedures for COVID-19 cases involving HIDOE staff and students.

Hawaii Department of Education

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) said that the updated guidelines are a good step forward, but they would like to see more oversight.

“There needs to be some sort of verification that the mitigation factors are being met,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president. “And that has to be before we open up any school. We should just make sure that there’s enough cleaning supplies that things are being met. Number two, we support the CDC metrics that are laid down, a more stringent policy for when schools should be closed.”

He said that they will continue to work with the Hawaii Department of Education to see if these options are viable.

“It shouldn’t be left up to a principal who’s not trained on this having to make these very difficult decisions. There should be some guidelines [for what exactly they need to do] and that’s what we’re still advocating for,” said Rosenlee.

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