DOE considers plan to reopen elementary schools for full, in-person learning in late March

DOE considers plan to reopen elementary schools for full, in-person learning in late March
Hawaii Schools File Image (Source: HNN Archive)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s schools superintendent said Friday that she is exploring the “viability” of fully reopening most or all public elementary schools to in-person learning in the fourth quarter of the school year, which starts March 22.

“This would allow our youngest learners the opportunity to have some in-person time back in the classroom this academic year as we transition to summer learning and the next school year,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said, in a statement email to news organizations.

She continued: “This will take tremendous planning and effort in a short amount of time to ensure any reopening plans continue to prioritize the health and safety of students and staff.”

Kishimoto said her leadership team, in collaboration with the state Department of Education, is putting together a plan to discuss at the March 4 Board of Education meeting.

The announcement is in stark contrast to the superintendent’s position earlier this week.

On Hawaii News Now’s Sunrise, she said Hawaii schools were unlikely to fully reopen until the fall, despite CDC guidance that suggested it is safe to welcome students back with precautions.

The Education Department has said that as of quarter 2, roughly 12,000 of Hawaii’s 162,000 public school students are receiving full in-person learning.

In releasing the superintendent’s statement Friday, the Education Department also released a letter from acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble in which she outlines why reopening schools is safe.

“As we have learned more about COVID-19 and schools, we have also learned that schools are not, as initially anticipated, amplifiers of COVID-19 transmission,” Kemble wrote.

“Rather, schools are one of the safest environments for children when it comes to COVID-19. Schools that have implemented mitigation measures are able to control COVID-19 transmission better than many community settings, where children may interact in less structured ways or attend gatherings with their families.”

Kemble said that “for all of those reasons” the Health Department supports “returning to in-person learning as soon as possible.”

This story will be updated.

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