DOE: Schools will remain closed through early April, but plans could change

Updated: Mar. 19, 2020 at 3:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public schools are scheduled to reopen April 6 after an extended spring break, but officials stressed Thursday that could change if the coronavirus threat continues. Officials said they’re also exploring remote schooling options.

Students are currently on spring break, and the state had previously extended their time off by a week ― through March 30.

But earlier this week, the state said public schools will remain closed through April 6.

At this point, students are set to return to class on April 7.

Based on lessons from other cities, however, there are indications that may be overly optimistic.

And state Superintendent Christine Kishimoto acknowledged as much Thursday, saying that the department is looking at all of its options, including the possibility for remote schooling.

“Closing our schools will help safeguard the health of our children, teachers, staff and surrounding communities as we fight against the spread of COVID-19,” Kishimoto said.

The Department of Education also announced:

  • All DOE offices, except those that provide essential services, closed Thursday.
  • All Education Department employees will be working remotely, and those who need to complete work on campus “will be limited to those tasks" before returning to tele-work.
  • Student grab-and-go meals and will be available starting March 27.

The governor was pushing back against calls to close schools as late as Tuesday, when he said that campuses would instead practice social distancing once students returned from spring break.

But many questioned the feasibility of that, especially at overcrowded middle and high schools.

Most private schools have already taken classes online, and so have Hawaii universities.

Closing public schools, however, is exponentially more complicated. Some 180,000 students attend public schools in Hawaii under a single statewide district ― one of the biggest in the country.

About 10% of those students are in special education and nearly half are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch, a key indicator of poverty.

The closure of public schools comes as the state seeks to shut down all but the most essential functions of daily life, urging visitors to cancel their trips to Hawaii and telling workers they should stay home.

On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige announced that most non-essential state workers would be working remotely effective immediately, and all state attractions and gathering places were closed.

The city has also been shutting down, including canceling all large events on city property and orders bars and restaurants to stop all dine-in services.

The actions are aimed at bringing Hawaii’s no. 1 economic driver ― tourism ― to a halt and dramatically changing the pace of daily life in the islands in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is overwhelming health care facilities in other US cities.

This story will be updated.

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