Amid surge in cases, Hawaii issues new COVID guidance for public schools

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 1:56 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 26, 2021 at 5:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department on Monday issued new COVID safety guidance for Hawaii public schools, stressing masking and social distancing while saying that the return to fully, in-person learning should be a priority for all campuses.

Hawaii public school students return to class Aug. 3.

Last school year, most students learned under a hybrid schedule ― a mix of in-person and distance learning. And there were fewer in-person learning opportunities for older students.

But this school year, the state has said everyone will get access to full, in-person learning. Some limited distance learning options are also available.

The new COVID safety guidance comes amid a surge in new cases in the islands.

State Health Department officials said the new guidance:

  • Promotes (but does not require) COVID-19 vaccines as a “core essential strategy,”
  • Sees social distancing as a key mitigation strategy,
  • Recommends universal mask wearing indoors and, when in groups, outdoors.

State officials said they will not require students or teachers to get vaccinated, but will hold more on-campus vaccination clinics around the state.

“When it comes to a course of study ― whether it’s for a grade or matriculation into the next grade level ― COVID vaccination should play no part in prohibiting the student in participating in the educational program,” said DOE deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami.

But officials are looking into whether to require vaccination for after-school sports and other extracurricular activities. The teachers union said that’s reasonable.

“There’s going to be a lot of interactions where you’re on top of others and things like that. Maybe mandating for those types of extracurricular activities is the right step,” said Osa Tui Jr., president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

But the union opposes a broader vaccine mandate for teachers and staffers because they say it won’t work.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a school with all personnel vaccinated but not your students. So if you’re going to mandate the personnel to get vaccinated, the students should get vaccinated,” said Tui.

The new guidance for schools also calls for the use of masks indoors and 3 foot distancing when possible. Adults should remain 6 feet apart from the children, said Kemble.

School and health officials said there will also be more on-campus testing for anyone who volunteers.

For the full guidance, click here.

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