An ‘unusual’ year begins for public school students with remote learning, in-person gatherings

New school year begins for Hawaii public schools despite COVID-19 concerns

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school students in Hawaii began their fall semester Monday, but there are still a lot of questions about exactly what it will look like.

The first four weeks of the school year are set to be delivered fully online for most students.

But this week, some students are coming to campuses to learn distance learning software and connect with teachers. Special needs students will also be getting instruction in person.

[Read more: Governor says public schools on Oahu will start fall term fully online]

“We are transitioning into what will continue to be an unusual school year,” schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told HNN Sunrise.

She added the in-person instruction this week — a point of significant concern for teachers — is needed to ensure that at-risk students without access to technology don’t fall through the cracks.

“We’re being very planful in our approach in saying, let’s make sure students have the devices that they need. Even with the set up at home and even with the minimum contact in the next few days, we’re going to have students that struggle because families are struggling right now.”

The original start date for schools was set for Aug. 4 but was pushed back to Monday. The state Department of Education then made the decision to move to distance learning for the first four weeks.

Kauluwela Elementary was among the campuses that welcomed students back Monday for small group meetings. The school has separated students into two groups. Each group will be on campus two hours a day for all four days this week. (Friday is a state holiday and all public schools will be closed.)

Marlene Ponce, a grandmother of students at the school, said she was worried about the risk of infection. She said she stressed the importance of taking precautions with her grandkids.

“I’m in the age bracket where it’s not good for me,” she said. “I’m just worried.”

The administration at the school does have a very detailed pickup and drop-off plan posted on its website in an effort to keep students, teachers and parents as safe as possible.

Group A students are reporting to school between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., then from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Group B students are on campus.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association reports that the principal at Kauluwela Elementary requested an exception to the 6-foot distancing requirement at the school, but his request was denied.

At Waialua High and Intermediate School, students are also returning this week. They will be on campus until 1:30 p.m. with distance learning beginning next week.

At Moanalua High School, administration made a last-minute change Sunday to move away from having students return to campus and to go full digital — only making appointments to come to campus if they have problems connecting.

This story will be updated.

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