Hawaii teachers prepare for in-person classes but say some guidelines still unclear

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Wednesday marked the first official day teachers were back to work. In less than a week, more than 170,000 students will be back on school campuses for in-person classes.

Kipapa Elementary Kindergarten teacher Kristi Okura said she is eager for school to start.

“I’m excited,” Okura said. “A little nervous but excited for the most part.”

Since kids ended last school year in-person, Okura said preparation isn’t that complicated this time around.

“I’m using a lot of things from last year as far as teaching goes,” she explained. “It’s more so just prepping assessments for the upcoming year.”

Wailuku Elementary teacher Lisa Yamada had already set up her desks for social distancing when she found out she wouldn’t be teaching in-person classes.

“We didn’t hear anything as far as having distance learning at the time until just this morning,” Yamada said. “About maybe eight o’clock this morning, our principal came by and told me that I was definitely going to be the third grade distance learning teacher.”

She said she’s preparing by reviewing her notes from last year and brushing up on distance learning ideas on YouTube.

The Department of Health released their guidelines for schools on Monday.

In addition to masking and social distancing, students aren’t allowed to share supplies. As a result, some teachers have come up with creative ways to alleviate that problem — like bagging items used by younger students.

“So, they would each get a bag, use it for the day and then at the end of the day we collect it, sanitize it and get ready for the next day,” Okura explained. “I was focusing on just for sanitizing it and making sure that no one touched what everyone else touched.”

The guidelines require students and teachers to remain in cohorts or “ohana bubbles,” and schools need to provide adequate ventilation in classrooms.

But some of the specifics still seem to be unclear.

When KHON2 asked teachers whether social distancing guidelines were 3 feet or 6 feet, they weren’t sure.

“Just following the Department of Health,” she said. “I can’t really say because we’re still waiting for more. We’re waiting for more guidance, and we just follow whatever guidance that they have set up for us.”

“Honestly, we didn’t get any information about that specifically,” Yamada said.

According to DOH school COVID-19 guidelines posted online, the rules are:
Maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, when possible.
Maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance between students and staff, and between staff members who are not fully vaccinated, when possible.
When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, implement the core essential strategies and additional layered mitigation strategies to the extent possible to reduce the risk to in-person education.

Yamada said she still has concerns.

“My four other friends who are teaching in class, like, how, how is it gonna be for them?” she asked. “You know, with the amount of kids, how can they fit so many in their classroom and yet keep them safe?”

When it comes to following the rules, Okura said kids know what they are and followed them last year.

“As much as it seems it would be difficult, the children adapted very well,” she explained. “A lot of them will be like, ‘Yeah we’re not supposed to share. We’re not supposed to touch each other’ and so they understood.”

Many teachers also bring in extra school supplies for kids who may not have them since sharing isn’t allowed.

Families can click here to find out how to get school supplies for their keiki. Additional resources can also be found here.

Both Okura and Yamada are trying to remain flexible in case things change.

Yamada admitted that hasn’t always been easy.

“You know, we did it last year. And we struggled a lot. It was hard,” she said. “If you can accept the fact that something’s changing, and you can change it, just do it. Because it’s not for us. It’s for the kids.”

She had one last message for people.

“Parents, please, I know you get upset at the teachers, but my plea to you is, please be kind to us. Because we’re doing our best. We’re just listening to what’s coming down to us. We don’t know what’s going on just as much as you do.”

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