State, teachers union come to agreement on what social distancing will mean at public schools

Updated: Jul. 13, 2020 at 5:21 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Under a deal announced Monday, public schools will need to get special approval if they want to configure meeting spaces or classrooms with less than 6 feet of social distancing ― and those requests must be submitted as contract exceptions no later than July 21.

Teachers had sparred with the state Education Department over its social distancing policy for public schools, which are set to reopen Aug. 4, after the schools superintendent said 3 to 6 feet of space was OK if students were all facing in the same direction (such as facing the front of the class).

The Hawaii State Teachers Association said 6 feet was the best practice ― and should be the only practice.

And hundreds of teachers testified to that effect at a Board of Education meeting last week, prompting the body to delay approval of the state’s plan to reopen schools with a series of safety guidelines in place.

But the agreement concedes that there may be some cases in which distancing of 3 to 5 feet is necessary.

Hawaii schools are reopening using one of several models, with a priority of offering largely in-person instruction to K-2 students and those with special needs. Most older students are likely to return in the fall under a “blended” model, with some remote instruction and some in-person instruction.

The state’s push to reopen schools on time comes amid a debate nationally about how to welcome students back to campuses safely. Some school districts, including in California, have already announced they’ll be bringing students back with remote instruction amid COVID-19 surges in many areas.

Hawaii has seen a spike in infections in recent weeks, with double-digit increases in new cases almost daily and a record high of 42 cases Saturday. But state public health officials say those increases are “manageable,” and to be expected with the reopening of the kamaaina economy.

This story will be updated.

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