HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public schools will reopen Aug. 4 using face-to-face instruction, remote learning or a combination of the two, schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Thursday.
Which model a school chooses will be based on the realities on the ground, including whether they can retrofit classrooms to make sure students and teachers can space out appropriately.
“The principals are making the decision: Do they have enough space to socially distance at least 6 feet?” Kishimoto told Hawaii News Now.
“We’re living in very different times. We know this is going to last for a while. Our goal is to make sure kids are learning. We want kids not to miss out on that educational experience.”
She said principals are meeting with their teachers and staff members now to discuss which model works for them. Schools will then inform parents of their decision.
Locally and nationally, parents have expressed concern about how they’ll be able to meet their work obligations if their children aren’t physically to school every day or even most days.
The DOE said it’s committed to offering the standard 180 instructional days over the course of the school year. But how that instruction is delivered will vary widely ― from student to student and campus to campus. A priority for face-to-face learning will be given to K-2 and “vulnerable” students.
There are also lingering concerns about whether the measures the DOE is taking are enough.
After the superintendent’s announcement Thursday, the teachers union raised concerns about the agency’s social distancing guidelines, which call for students to remain 6 feet apart when facing each other but 3 feet apart when they’re all faced in the same direction (like when they’re facing the front of the class).
Corey Rosenlee, Hawaii State Teachers Association president, said a 6 foot separation should be standard.
“Placing students’ desk only 3 feet apart is ridiculous and dangerous and puts our keiki, our families and our community at risk,” he said. “This is not OK.”
Hawaii school campuses closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and remained shuttered through the remainder of the school year, with students technically returning with remote learning.
But participation in those remote learning opportunities, which weren’t graded, was low.
A survey of public school teachers found that most of their students didn’t regularly participate in distance learning. Regular participation among secondary school students was in the single digits in some areas.
The Education Department has said it did everything it could to ensure students were being engaged, including going door-to-door in some areas.
But many parents expressed frustration over a lack of communication from schools.
Speaking to HNN on Thursday, Kishimoto asked for patience from parents and educators ― and noted that Hawaii public schools will be the first in the nation to reopen in the fall.
She added that schools will be “learning as we go.”
Students who are on campus will encounter a very different learning environments. At most times, they’ll be wearing face masks and teachers will have face shields on.
Younger students won’t have to wear masks as often, and students will be able to take them off while with small groups of students that they are learning with regularly.
Kishimoto also said that schools won’t be conducting temperature checks.
Instead, schools are being instructed to do “visual checks,” or eye kids to see if they appear healthy. Those who are visibly sick or who say that they feel sick would then be further assessed.
In the department’s “Return to Learn: School and Safety Reopening Plan” document released this week, the DOE outlines measures that schools need to follow, including what to do when a student becomes sick.
Under an agreement with the teachers union, the Education Department also agreed to key safety protocols for classrooms and campuses.
This story will be updated.