HONOLULU(KHON2) — Hawaii schools continue to struggle due to staffing shortages.

According to data provided by Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi to the Board of Education (BOE), more than 16.1% of school staff were not present for the first semester statewide with the highest percentages occurring on neighbor islands — information that was compiled even before the current COVID surge.

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Hayashi added that at least 16% of staff have been absent at least one day so far this quarter, and even though there are 3,922 substitute teachers available, it is not enough.

According to Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) data, thousands of substitute teacher job requests went unfilled the week of Jan. 3 to 11. The highest percentage was on Oahu’s West Side, followed by Maui’s complex area and Central Oahu.

The Hawaii State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) President Osa Tui Jr. said the DOE’s report stated that they do provide substitutes when teachers are out; however, that is not the case in every situation.

“Some of our teachers are out because they’re having to stay home because they might be close contact, but they might be able to provide a distance learning environment to other students. But that also has not been utilized,” Tui explained.

“There’s a lot of things not being used that we could be using to make sure that there is a continuity of education for students, and the department is just floundering right now.”

Osa Tui Jr., President of The Hawaii State Teacher’s Association

The number of students missing school due to COVID-19 is another issue, not to mention the close contacts who are also being told to quarantine at home.

The DOE continues to focus on in-person learning, but Hayashi said schools do have contingency plans in place in case they need to shift to distance learning. He said they look at three key areas: staffing, supervision and school operations.

When asked by BOE member Bruce Voss whether there were specific metrics schools could use to gauge the need in a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 20, Hayashi said:

“That’s very difficult to answer because each situation is different, and it’s a discussion between the school principal, complex area superintendent and myself. I hope I was able to answer your question.”

Voss was not satisfied.

“Candidly, superintendent, to me anyway, your answer was the department does not give much if any guidance to schools,” Voss replied.

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Tui said the teacher’s union has repeatedly asked to sit down with the DOE to help develop a plan, but the DOE has not responded to their requests.