Rise in coronavirus cases ahead of new school year leaves uncertainty about return to campus

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The start of school is less than two weeks away and teachers and parents say they are being left in the dark as school guidance is still in the works. With COVID-19 cases going up, there is uncertainty about what returning to school will look like.

There was some clarity on Wednesday, July 21, with the Department of Education outlining distance learning options. At least 12 elementary schools in the central Oahu school district offer it. However, six complex areas will not offer distance learning due to low demand, some schools will also offer both.

The teacher’s union (HSTA) said this is a step in a positive direction, but teachers are still going to be expected to teach both online and in-person, which the Board of Education agreed should not happen.

“You’re responsible to teach both in-person and at home at the same time and that was the most stressful situation and it was the least ideal for the students and the teachers,” said Sherisse Kiriu, a Moanalua Elementary School teacher.

HSTA said they hope schools that intend to offer both options come up with alternatives instead. Another concern ahead of the school year is the spike in COVID-19 cases.

“I really hope that there is this type of option for parents like me,” said Marika Bertram, a parent of a student in the Windward Oahu school complex. “I know I’d love my kids to be able to go to school in person, but health is first and foremost.”

Current Department of Health guidance uses the case average and positivity rates to make a recommendation on what type of learning model should be offered in schools, whether that is in-person learning, learning from home or a blend of the two. The latest outlook has not been updated yet, but with numbers ticking up, Hawaii could be looking at a shift toward a blended learning model.

However, DOH is revising new back-to-school guidance and hopes to release that by Friday, July 24. Teachers said that is cutting it close.

“It’s still up in the air. We don’t know, are we going to have all our kids? Are some kids going to go to a distance learning situation,” said Kiriu.

“When are they going to decide to do this,” said Laura Oshiro, a Moanalua Middle School teacher. “When are they going to let us know that some kids are going distance learning and we’re going to be left with less kids?”

The first official day for teachers is Wednesday, July 28, then just six days later kids will return to campus.

“We only have like three days to prepare, before the students start coming in and that will be moving the classroom around. What is it going to be like? How do we situate the desks and everything else? So we have to do all of that in like a couple of days,” said Oshiro.

“We haven’t heard much from anywhere and it’s a little scary since school starts next week already. It’s also scary, because, for me, who teaches third grade, they’re too young to get vaccinated,” Kiriu said.

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