DOE: All Hawaii public school students to return for full, in-person learning in August

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 3:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than a year after Hawaii moved to distance learning for public school students, the state has set a date to resume daily, in-person learning for all grades.

In a letter to parents Monday, outgoing DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said with vaccines available to kids 12 and older, along with ongoing safety practices in place, “all HIDOE schools will be fully open for daily, in-person learning” starting Aug. 3.

This includes extracurricular activities like clubs, band and athletics.

At the end of the 2020-21 school year, most students were still spending at least part of their day learning remotely.

In her letter, Kishimoto noted that since June 2020, there have been more than 800 cases of COVID-19 tied to the school system, but said there has been no transmission of the virus within any DOE facilities.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the union supports the state’s plans. He said the announcement gives parents and students a clear signal of what’s ahead.

“If we see an outbreak, then we need to go to virtual but if we’re not seeing outbreaks as the community is getting vaccinated, and as more students are getting vaccinated,” said Rosenlee.

“I think that the long term impact to the social learning of students is going to be impacted if we don’t go back soon enough.”

Hawaii News Now asked to speak with Kishimoto about the in-person learning details, but was told she is not available. Her last day leading the DOE is July 30, four days before the start of the fall term.

A spokeswoman for DOE confirmed schools won’t be offering full distance learning in the fall. Families can work with schools if certain exceptions need to be made, but fear of COVID is not an excuse.

But Rosenlee thinks getting all students to return will be a challenge.

“I think one of the things that schools are going to have to work with is their teachers and counselors is from day one, seeing how many students return, and then doing the best that we can to encourage those that are not coming to come to school,” said Rosenlee.

Jill LaBoy, principal of Kailua Intermediate School, said it’s vital that students return to class.

“As you know, students need to be in school,” LaBoy said. “It’s been challenging year for everybody and everybody’s come together and stepped up, but we’re looking forward to all students in school all day every day starting in the fall..”

Over the last year, most students have been learning in a hybrid format, with some days in class and some days remote. High schoolers have had the least in-person instructional time.

In her letter, Kishimoto said the safety of students and staff members remains a top priority.

“All of our high schools have been paired with health care providers to offer vaccinations to interested students and families, and we are now focusing on our middle school campuses,” Kishimoto said.

“Additionally the Department is finalizing plans for weekly COVID testing at select pilot schools to further contain spread in our school communities.”

The announcement comes amid a strong push to vaccinate younger Hawaii residents, including with vaccine clinics on school campuses.

Everyone who is 12 and older in the islands can get the vaccine. For more information, click here.

Read the full letter below:

This brings an end to distance learning for thousands of Hawaii families who have been vocal in expressing their displeasure with blended learning models in recent months.

Hawaii News Now spoke with parents, who are all for the DOE’s decision.

“Should have went back earlier, just for the fact that the distance learning, I don’t think it really works, I think, in person, especially for younger kids, they need the socialization,” said Al Estes of Honolulu. “That’s a big factor in how they grow.”

“It helps us the parents who are single parents and some parents who work every single day,” said Sally of Salt Lake.

[Read a previous report: After a ‘lost year’ for many students, educators and advocates scramble to get them help]

Monday’s announcement is the first time the DOE has announced a start date for all students to return to in-person learning.

Meanwhile, the governor approved Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s request to allow spectators to watch from the sidelines, which is in effect immediately.

Manoa Baseball parents are thrilled, but say the green light to watch from the stands is long overdue.

Mahina Maii whose son plays for the Manoa Pirates says they have been catching games from their cars and try to secure parking closest to the field.

“We won’t have to be fighting for these prime spaces right in the front, we’ll be able to just park wherever and come out, watch your children and go back,” said Maii.

Players and coaches are also excited to have parents watching on the field.

“I’m mostly excited, because they actually get to see better,” Koa Bright who plays for the Manoa Indians.

“This place is probably going to be packed [but] we’re gonna still be safe and social distance and wear a mask, but it’s gonna be more like a ballpark again,” said Ben Bright, president of Manoa Baseball.

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