Elementary schools set goal for in-person learning, but high schools could be distant until fall

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) will be implementing revised health and safety protocols as more students are projected to return to in-person learning on public school campuses during the fourth quarter.

The new protocols align with the latest Department of Health (DOH) guidance for schools.

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“Face-to-face learning is so vital for our students, especially our youngest learners,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said on Monday, March 15. “We’ve been diligently working to maximize in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.”

Highlights of the new protocols for in-person instruction include the following:

  • Advance notice: Schools shall provide a minimum notice of seven calendar days before an increase to in-person schooling.
  • Remote work during quarantine: In the event of a classroom, workspace and/or building being closed due to COVID-19 and students being sent home and/or being directed to quarantine, employees identified as a close contact needing to quarantine in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Department of Health (DOH) school guidance shall continue to work from a remote location when able.
  • Mitigation strategies: Regardless of the level of community transmission, all schools shall use and layer mitigation strategies aligned to CDC guidance, DOH guidelines, and the HIDOE’s Return to Learn Health and Safety Handbook. These strategies include:
    • Consistent masking; staying home when unwell and going home if you become unwell at school; and proper hand hygiene.
    • Cohorting; physical distancing (ideally, at least 6 feet); adjusting ventilation systems to introduce more outside air and/or increase air exchange; physical barriers (most important when masking and physical distancing can’t be maintained); and cleaning high-touch areas.

Currently only elementary schools are being targeted for the 50% goal of in-person learning.

“Our goal right now is to use this quarter to prepare for the summer and hopefully have all students back in person for the fall,” Kishimoto said.

The HIDOE said union leaders from the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), and the United Public Workers (UPW) support the plans to ramp up in-person instruction.

Unless that changes, students like Campbell High School senior Josiah Batalla will be left to graduate from home in May.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking because I really enjoy being in school with everybody, the environment and all of that we had senior walks around the school pumping their chest out and stuff like that and it was nice to see as a junior like wow, thats going to be me next year and that’s not going to be me at all,” Batalla said.

The DOE says, the biggest challenge for bringing students to school completely is lunch. Masks would be off, and finding 6 feet of distance for students is difficult.

“Our cafeteria can maybe fit 70 students and you divide that by 760 I need 10 lunch periods for kids to eat safely,” Kanoelani Elementary Principal Stacie Kunihisa said.

Schools who have implemented in-person learning have gotten creative with scheduling.

“I think that some schools would be doing staggered lunches, some are having their kids eating outside,” Hawaii State Teachers Association president Corey Rosenlee said.

State Representative Amy Perusso wants parents to be patient with teachers, as simultaneous learning and transitioning is sure to be difficult. Rep. Perusso is also aprehensive about the move for elementary schools due to COVID-19 variants.

“What I’m more concerned about is just dealing with the instincts of young children, they’re going to be so happy to see each other and they’re going to be all over each other,”

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