Hundreds on wait-list for distance learning as new cases in schools triple

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Public schools have been back in session for about two weeks, and the COVID case count linked to schools has already tripled from 105 the first week to 325 according to the Department of Education (DOE). Many on campus are frustrated and scared. They say the DOE wasn’t prepared, and that kids are at risk. Hundreds of families are still waiting for virtual classes to begin.

More than 170,000 students are back on school campuses as coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state.

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McKinley High School Principal Ron Okamura said every day is a struggle.

“I go home every day mentally exhausted,” Okamura said. “Just trying to think about how do we keep our kids safe? How do we keep our teachers safe?”

HSTA Vice President Logan Okita said teachers are afraid.

“We hear from teachers every day about being scared to the report to campus,” said Okita. “Being scared because they’ve been told that they’re a close contact. Being scared about what they’re supposed to do next, being unsure of what they’re expected to do, and how they’re supposed to do it.”

She said HSTA wants the DOE to come up with clear thresholds to trigger hybrid or distance learning if cases continue to increase.

“HSTA wants to have formal discussions in a collaborative way with the Department of Education,” she said. “So that we can put some of the protocols that we had in place last year, that best support our students, when we have to go into a distance learning situation.”

Okamura said McKinley High School could revert back to virtual classes if there was a shut down, but he hasn’t seen any clear plan for that yet. He appreciates the flexibility DOE has given each school but he would like to be a little more guidance.

“If there’s something that’s going to be statewide, that it’s consistent across the board because what we don’t want to pit schools against each other. ‘Hey, how come this school is doing that, and you know, your school is not?'” he explained.

Meanwhile hundreds of families who opted for distance learning are still waiting as the DOE looks for teachers to run a virtual state program.

BJ Shavers applied to put both of her kids in online classes more than a week ago.

“Right now it’s still up in the air,” she said. “. Nothing is done. They should have had all this planned ahead of time knowing that the pandemic was still going up as (kids) was going to school. They should have had this all into play already.”

Current social distancing guidelines are set at three feet in classrooms.

According to Okumura, following that has been a challenge.

“We’re trying to fit 30 plus kids in a classroom space that’s meant for only 20,” he said. “So there is an issue about about social distancing.”

“The problem is that (the DOE guidelines) say three feet when possible,” Okita explained. “And when you have more than 30 students in a classroom, it’s not possible. But it needs to be happening to keep our students safe.”

Shavers said she is concerned for her kids safety, which is why she’s opting for online classes.

“Within the two schools I’ve been having maybe about five emails already stating that multiple COVID cases,” Shavers said. “There’s no way that it can be safe.”

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KHON reached out to DOE for comment and we are waiting for a response.

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