Lawmakers, DOE point blame in schools’ COVID-19 response

Lawmakers, DOE point blame in schools’ COVID-19 response
The inside of a classroom at Fern Elementary School in Hawaii. (Source: Instagram/Hawaii Dept. of Education)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers are criticizing the Department of Education for its lack of preparation for its distance learning programs ― but the school’s superintendent is returning blame, accusing the legislature of not providing funding to put a plan together.

“The legislature is extremely concerned about the situation at the Department of Education,” Senate and House members wrote in a joint letter to the Board of Education. “We implore the Board to ensure the department’s reopening plans include a clear, fiscal accounting of how state and federal funds will be used to ensure the health, well-being and education of our Keiki.”

In the letter, lawmakers cited a teacher’s union survey showing that many students didn’t take part in online classes during the pandemic, even though the DOE has received millions in federal funding for distance learning.

Legislators are also worried that the DOE is waiting until July 2 ― a month before school starts ― to tell schools how to reopen.

State Superintendent Christina Kishimoto says the state’s lawmakers should share some of the responsibility.

“A month before schools are set to reopen, Hawaii’s legislators have allocated zero dollars from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, from which we had sought $111 million,” she said.

Kishimoto says Colorado is providing its schools with about half a billion dollars, while Arizona is allocating more than $270 million.

The dispute comes as lawmakers, education officials on Kauai and members of the private sector unveiled a $1.2 million pilot program to provide distance learning for students at Kauai’s 20 public and charter schools.

Senate President Ron Kouchi says nearly 1,000 Kauai public school students don’t even have access to the internet. The pilot project will provide mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, so students can learn online.

“Ten percent of the students are without Internet connections. Many students are without the hardware, even if they had Internet connection,” said Kauai state Rep. Nadine Nakamura.

Paul Zina, the incoming superintendent for the DOE’s Kauai complex, added:

“Kids were using any access they could get. Very often, it was robbing mom or dad of their cell phone and that became the Internet access for the day,” he said.

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