HONOLULU (KHON2) — Almost all students will start school where they ended their first quarter–distance learning from home.
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But by the end of the year, most schools are planning to have roughly 25% of their students back on campus. The Hawaii Department of Education is also discussing the possibility of offering rapid tests to anyone who feels sick at school.
Public school students begin their second quarter Monday. While most area complexes plan to gradually transition their students to blended learning models through December, three area complexes (Nanakuli-Waianae, Campbell-Kapolei and Kailua-Kalaheo) have opted to continue full distance learning through the second quarter instead.
The decision to transition students back to campuses, or continue with current learning modes, was based on the guidelines provided by the Department of Health, which were released in mid-September. These guidelines are much less stringent than those released by the CDC.
DOH Deputy Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble explained that they waited as long as they could for the CDC guidelines to come out, but they needed to get something out to schools so they could begin planning.
CDC released their guidelines within days of the DOH.
An updated version of the DOH school guidelines in line with the CDC document and metrics were a major topic discussed Friday during the Senate Special Committee meeting on COVID-19.
“Right now, we understand that most of the schools have already decided their learning plans for the fall based on the previously released guidance and that they are taking a more conservative stance than what was received in the September 15th guidance–and that’s fine,” Kemble said.
She added that the DOH is in the process of revising the guidelines, and added that they will be more conservative than what was previously released.
HI-DOE Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said that schools are referring to both the federal and state plans for guidance.
“Until we finish up this conversation, we have lined up the DOH and the CDC guidance together to make sure that we weren’t missing looking at the data through the lense of the school.”
Senator Donovan Dela Cruz requested the new guidelines to mirror the four-tier reopening plan recently implemented by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Sen. Dela Cruz hoped that the new DOH plan would align more closely with the other re-openings, making it easier for the community to follow the changes.
According to Unebasami, it’s not that simple.
“What we tried to do is create criteria so schools will apply it to make a decision–and that’s what’s held constant. The criteria have to be looked at uniquely for the school.”
She said that the DOE isn’t opening schools across the board because each campus needs to take into consideration their facilities, how many students they have and many other factors to gauge whether they can safely reopen, and implement certain mitigation requirements.
Kemble said that the DOH hopes to have the new school guidelines ready by the end of next week.
On Wednesday, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced that schools would have access to the 420,000 rapid antigen tests given to the state through by the feds through the end of the year.
Unebasami said that DOE is discussing testing in schools with HI-EMA but nothing if finalized.
“There’s only a finite number of tests that we’ll probably get our hands on so the question becomes how are they going to hand out those tests,” Unebasami said.