HONOLULU (KHON2) — Almost 20% of Hawaii’s high school students are not on track to graduate after being sent home to learn during the COVID pandemic. Educators said these students are disengaged and chronically absent.

The latest academic status report painted a grim picture with 10% of all public school students failing core math and reading classes. A sobering reality as several officials said it is directly linked to the year spent distance learning due to the pandemic.

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Something even more unnerving is that only 81% of public school students are currently on track to graduate.

Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the Department of Education (DOE) will need to provide the appropriate support to students who are not on track to graduate to engage them in their learning and help them toward earning their high school diploma.

Hayashi said schools are working on it. But it has not been easy, according to Waianae High School Principal Ray Pikelny-Cook.

“We’re seeing a deficit in, not just skills, but even them being able to socialize with each other. Them coming back to school, our first quarter, there was a lot of just social-emotional learning.”

Ray Pikelny-Cook, Waianae High School Principal

Pikelny-Cook also said they focused heavily on providing emotional support and getting chronically absent kids back in classes.

“We also have social workers that work with our counselors and administrators who go out to the homes of students who are disengaged so that we can, at least, touch bases with families, see students face to face and encourage them to come back to school for face to face instruction.”

The teachers union said connecting with students is vital to helping them succeed and graduate, but they want the DOE to put together a detailed plan of action that all schools and teachers can follow.

“The plan that the department has put forward in order to receive the federal funding that’s available looks like everything they’ve put forward before,” said Lisa Morrison, Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) secretary. “Some of the exceptions are that they want to add some summer school and after-school programming, and they made mention of some tutoring for students.”

However, Morrison said they did not outline how it would be done or how much it would cost.

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The Board of Education approved another round of emergency funding, but there are concerns about how that money will be used.