HONOLULU (KHON2) — More than a thousand public school teachers were out Wednesday, Jan. 5, as schools continue to battle with the ongoing COVID-19 surge.

The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is dealing with the crisis on a case-by-case basis and released updated guidance for schools to follow.

Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You

Thousands of students returned to class on Tuesday, Jan. 4, after a two-week break, but schools are plagued by staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic.

Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi reported 800 teachers called out sick on Wednesday and an additional 800 teachers called out for other reasons, representing 12% of teachers. He added that there are currently 400 unfilled substitute teacher requests.

The Hawaii State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) President, Osa Tui, Jr. said when that happens students are often “babysat” by non-classroom teachers. 

“Counselors are being pulled and say, ‘Hey, you need to go and babysit a classroom?’ The security guards are being told, ‘You need to go and babysit a classroom.’ That is very inappropriate,” Tui said. 

Hayashi said they are trying to be innovative to address issues to make sure that students are being taught and classes are being covered. The DOE has not determined a trigger for mitigation strategies. 

“There is no real threshold or any, say magic number, that we’re looking at to say, ‘If it hits this number, this will happen,’ because I think each case needs to be treated individually and needs to be addressed as such because their each situation is so unique,” Hayashi explained. 

According to Hayashi, principals or complex superintendents would deal with situations as they occur and go from there. 

“As far as advanced notification of our schools, they’re assessing daily, and at the point where they determined that they’re not able to open a classroom, or classes within a school, they’ll be notifying parents as soon as possible,” Hayashi said. 

DOE is asking parents to remain flexible and to understand they could receive a call from their child’s school at any time to tell them classes are cancelled.

Below are key points from the DOE’s updated guidance in alignment with the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines:

  • Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for five days, regardless of their vaccination status.
    • They may return to school after five days if their symptoms improved and no fever for at least 24 hours without the use of medication.
    • Those recovering from COVID-19 must continue to wear a mask for five days off-campus and off-site following isolation.
  • Schools should make plans for closing classrooms due to lack of supervision as a result of staff absences.
    • Schools should plan for rolling absences and provide student work aligned with lessons missed for extended absences. For disruptions lasting more than one day, schools should create a plan for the continuation of learning for the classroom(s) affected.

Get more coronavirus news: COVID vaccines and boosters

Hayashi thanked those at the school level who are being flexible and allowing students to return to in-person learning.