As teachers look ahead to vaccinations, thousands of students return to classrooms

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 5:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In-person learning resumed Tuesday for many schools across the state.

The state Department of Education said the maximum capacity is 50% at one time on campus, but many schools put a cap even lower.

That means a significant number of students are on a blended schedule: A mix of in-person and distance learning.

And the parents of almost 30% of students opted to continue with only distance learning.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto called it a constant push and pull.

“We have just as many people who are fearful as we have people who are saying ‘yes, we have to have precautions in place, but we need to get back to normalcy,’” she said.

Gavan Abe is comfortable sending his third grader back to Maemae Elementary School when his turn comes up. “I really see the benefit of students being in-person especially for students when they’re in elementary school,” Abe said.

“I think they need to have the interaction with the teacher, the classmates.”

State Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Education Committee, has heard from constituents who agree.

”Most parents want to see their children in school but they’re also cautious that can be done safely,” she said.

Extra cleaning is being done on all campuses that welcomed back students.

Desks are spaced apart at least 6 feet and extra hand sanitizer bottles are scattered throughout the classrooms. Common play areas are also off limits.

The state Department of Health said some students have been on campus through much of the pandemic. Since June, there have been a total of 351 COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

Dr. Sarah Kemble, deputy state epidemiologist with the DOH, said they learned a lot from those cases and are using that knowledge in the current response plan.

Corey Rosenlee, teachers union president, said he doesn’t support the return of so many students on campuses at once ― and says it would have been smarter to vaccinate teachers first.

“We are days or weeks away from DOE employees getting vaccinated,” said Rosenlee. “We all expect as more people get vaccinated cases will go down.”

Kauai teachers and staff are planning to get vaccinated starting next week. That would make Kauai the first county in the state to give the shots to educators.

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