Public schools will make ‘gradual’ transition to blended learning in October

Updated: Sep. 18, 2020 at 5:40 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school parents should prepare for distance learning to continue into the second quarter, but schools will slowly transition to a blended model that includes some in-person instruction starting in mid-October, schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto announced Thursday.

Kishimoto stressed there is no “one size fits all” approach to reopening Hawaii’s public schools.

Rather, she said that decisions on when — and how — to reopen public school campuses will be made at complex areas and based on new guidelines crafted by the state Health and Education departments.

One thing that is certain, however: Schools won’t be returning to a full in-person learning model until after winter break. “The second quarter will begin as a continuation of learning from home," Kishimoto said, adding the new guidelines include thresholds that help determine when schools can safely reopen — and when they should close. “Schools will begin communicating about what the second quarter instruction will look like."

She also said, “We cannot adopt a statewide approach for all schools.”

But the absence of that broader approach — or even specifics on how many cases on a campus would close a school — means parents struggling to juggle needs at work and at home have little hope for relief in sight.

The new Health Department guidance, based on the last 14 days of data, suggests it may be safe to return to in-person instruction on Maui, Lanai and Kauai and blended learning on Oahu, Molokai and the Big Island. Blended learning means that students spend some time on campus and the rest learning remotely.

However, the DOH data is only one piece of the puzzle. The guidelines say that in addition to levels of community transmission, schools should select a learning model based on preparedness and their capacity to meet mitigation strategies, like spacing students out in class.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the teachers union, called the state’s metrics “dangerous.”

He said the Hawaii State Teachers Association was not consulted on the guidance and “this is something that we are going to fight.” He added that he supports full distance learning through January.

“It has to be something that is uniform,” he said. “We believe it should be a statewide policy.”

Dr. Sarah Kemble, assistant state epidemiologist, said the Health Department’s thresholds are designed to equip school leaders with tools they can use to take next steps.

Lawmakers, teachers and parents have been asking for those thresholds — or “triggers” — for months.

Kemble added the guidance is a “living document” that will change as the situation does.

Kemble also said that schools need to know that when in-person learning resumes, “there will inevitably be COVID-19 cases." A specialty contact tracing team at the Department of Health has been put together to speed up the process of determining whether transmission is happening on campus, she said.

The first quarter ends Oct. 2 and school will resume Oct. 12 after a fall break.

Since the start of the school year last month, most students have been learning remotely. About 3,000 special education students are attending class on campuses, however.

The DOE reported 14 cases of COVID-19 at campuses across the state last week and 89 since June 26.

The discussion about how and when to reopen campuses to more in-person learning comes as the state plans for the launch of a pre-travel testing program on Oct. 15.

The program is seen as a big first step toward reopening the state’s tourism industry, which has been all but shuttered since a mandatory quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers was instituted in March.

Businesses, workers and unions have said that schools play a vital role in reopening the economy since parents can’t get back to work if they need to stay home with children who are out of school.

This story will be updated.

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