HONOLULU (KHON2) — The House Higher and Lower Education Committee held a meeting with the Department of Education (DOE) Tuesday to discuss a number of issues, including whether a blanket decision about learning modes should be implemented and if a COVID-19 vaccine should be required for students.

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With a surge in coronavirus cases predicted after the holidays, some wonder if the DOE will shift all students back to distance learning.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said those decisions will continue to be made at the complex level.

“It’s not possible for public school systems to have a one size fits all model for all schools.”

House Education Committee Chair Representative, Justin Woodson, said parents still have a choice.

“Ultimately, the parents and guardians have the decision. If a school decides to reopen, and the parent is not comfortable, they can still move forward with distance learning,” Woodson explained.

Jana Refowitz has two children in public school. She agreed that it makes more sense for a complex area superintendent to make the call.

“I understand allowing the complexes to make the decision because it’s not black and white. For so many families it’s complicated. And the complex superintendent knows their community better,” Refowitz said.

They also discussed the COVID-19 vaccine. Kishimoto says they will work closely with the Department of Health.

“I would still absolutely honor personal choice on this. It’s not about forcing (the vaccine) on the community, it’s about providing quality education to the community,” Kishimoto explained.

“I am a pro-vaccine parent, I always have been. I believe in them. They work. They help vulnerable members of our community. And so, in general, I have no problem giving my children and myself the vaccine…There’s always what ifs, but if we don’t have confidence in general that the systems are working then we kind of have nothing. Everyone has the intention of helping us solve this pandemic because it’s for the benefit of everyone and I like to have that as my guide,” Refowitz said.

Kishimoto said the DOE could possibly assist with vaccinations once they are out because they already have a vetted process.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services Heidi Armstrong said they would work with the DOH and follow the same protocols they have set up with their Stop the Flu at School campaign.

Woodson agreed that since the DOE already has infrastructure in place to administer vaccines, it makes sense to use them as a resource.

“We have millions of Americans. What is the best way to make sure all these Americans have the necessary vaccination to make sure that we’re all protected? To me, one of the easiest ways to do that is to utilize our large institutions like our departments of education across the nation. So, although it hasn’t been discussed, to me, that’s a very real possibility,” Woodson said.

First and foremost, Kishimoto said they will work on getting as much information out to the public once it’s available, so that parents and families can make an informed decision about the vaccination.

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