Superintendent says full in-person learning unlikely to resume before summer

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021 at 4:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite a national push to get students back in classrooms full-time, following new safety guidance from the CDC, schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Hawaii public schools are unlikely to return to full in-person learning before next school year.

Under the new CDC guidance, most of the state would fall in low or moderate transmission categories and so should allow full, in-person instruction. Hawaii has one of the nation’s lowest infection rates, and Oahu is posed to ease some COVID restrictions this week.

But it’s ultimately up to the state on whether to reopen public schools.

And the governor and superintendent have said they’re working to reopen to full in-person instruction but are also operating on their own timeline.

For the first time Monday, Kishimoto offered more details on what that timeline looks like, saying public schools in Hawaii are unlikely to reopen fully to in-person instruction before the fall.

She said summer classes could also be held in-person.

“I think we’re going to have to have a robust summer learning program and allow students to come back or to continue into the summer months as needed,” she said.

“This is really about thinking a little differently about what the school year means. At the same time, we have 10,000 students getting ready to graduate and we want to make sure they complete their work on time, so they can transition to higher ed and into the work force successfully.”

She added, “Realistically, not only in Hawaii but across the nation, we’re seeing that we’re aiming the summer and for next (school ) year as for reopening. We don’t want to reopen and then shut down.”

Currently, the state says, 76% of Hawaii public school students are attending some classes in-person. Most are following a hybrid model, with in-person learning on some days of the week.

The state Education Department says at least 12,000 students statewide were learning in-person full-time in quarter two. Statewide, nearly 180,000 students are enrolled in public schools.

More detailed statistics on in-person learning by grade level or school were not available.

The public school picture is in stark contrast to a number of private schools, which have been offering in-person instruction for months. Advocates worry that the situation is leading to an educational system of haves and have-nots that could have significant repercussions for years to come.

Gov. David Ige has been resistant to set a date for reopening schools.

Much of the state’s in-person efforts are happening at the elementary level, and Ige says it’s more of a challenge at the middle and high schools.

“Students typically would have four to seven classes a day,” said Ige, in an interview Monday on Facebook with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“They’re changing and there’s a lot of transition time to get to the next class and it’s just is a lot more complicated in how we keep our students, faculty, and staff safe at a middle school or high school, which is easier to do at elementary.”

As she works through reopening metrics, Kishimoto is also dealing with budget cuts and criticism from teachers for resisting use of federal relief money for hard-to-recruit teachers and to prevent layoffs.

She says she prefers to push the state Legislature for appropriate funding. A one-time infusion of federal money is not a long-term solution, she said.

“So what I’m saying is let’s solve this this year,” Kishimoto said.

“Let’s not kick this down the road to next year. Because otherwise, we still need to come back to this question of permanent funds for permanent positions.”

In regard to youth sports, Kishimoto says it’s unlikely there’ll be any games this school year, but is open to practices and conditioning in some capacity.

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