As outbreak grows, public schools extend students’ spring break by a week

Updated: Mar. 16, 2020 at 11:08 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is extending spring break for public school students by a week as the coronavirus outbreak worsens across the country.

Gov. David Ige said Sunday that classes won’t resume until March 30.

He made the announcement at a news conference alongside health officials to discuss the latest details on known cases of COIVD-19 in Hawaii.

The extension of the vacation includes the Kuhio Day holiday.

During the extension, Ige said staff will be cleaning the schools and reviewing sanitary procedures.

“Part of the effort is to identify touch points and those areas that have a lot of contact with students, so obviously student desks," Ige said. "But even beyond that, the high touch point areas on every campus will be looked at and part of the opportunity is to look at changing cleaning routines,” Ige said.

Officials also added that teachers will use the time to plan ahead and figure out how to handle future lessons to implement social distancing, and to think about lessons in case distance learning methods are put into place.

“We know that when we disrupt children’s routines, it creates trauma, and we do not want to add to that,” deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said. “These are scary times for our families and our students and we want to make sure that we’re not contributing to that.”

Ige said with certainty that teacher furloughs were not an option they were considering. Officials also said cancelling the school year wasn’t a likely possibility.

High school graduation ceremonies, which are usually held in mid or late May, have not yet been called off, the DOE said.

Schools have canceled other large events including sports, travel and community gatherings. They say they are following guidance from health officials.

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“We understand the impact this will have on our families. This was not an easy decision to make but we take seriously our responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and the broader community while carrying out our educational mission,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said.

“Public schools serve as hubs of care in our communities, from access to health care to providing free and reduced price meals. We intend to restart school immediately once it is deemed safe to do so to reduce disruption to our school communities and provide consistency for our children,” Dr. Kishimoto added.

Just last week, officials said they weren’t planning on closing schools altogether, saying “far-reaching impacts and tremendous community disruption."

“There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to closing schools or moving classes online including serving students with special needs, those without internet connection or devices at home, and impacts to our employees,” said Lindsay Chambers, communications director for the DOE.

The DOE acknowledged the situation was constantly changing.

Ige said they will continue to monitor the need for potential school closures if signs of community spread of the virus appear. He reiterated that the cases so far have been travel based, and not spread from person to person in the islands.

This story will be updated.

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