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With school starting soon, state says in-person instruction is safe despite surge in cases

Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 3:32 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 31, 2021 at 9:50 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With public school students returning to the classroom on Tuesday, state officials said they believe it is still safe to conduct in-person instruction despite the surge in COVID cases.

On Friday, the state reported 622 infections, with 25% of COVID cases found in children.

State Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said while there is some risk in bringing children back to school, she said having students learning in-person is essential.

“There is risk involved in everything. But I think we also have to be cognizant that there is a cost to not having children in school and having them fall further behind in learning and the continued social isolation,” Char said.

“So when we weigh everything, and we’re trying to make schools as safe as we possibly can, the Department of Health has been working very, very closely with the Department of Education, to put mitigation factors in place to try and make the school safer.”

Char acknowledged that in bringing roughly 180,000 students back to the classroom, there will be some people who have COVID.

However, she said pushing vaccinations, mandating masks indoors, washing hands and ensuring children stay home when they are feeling sick will help minimize the spread of the virus.

Dr. Nadine Tenn Salle, chief of pediatrics at the Queen’s Medical Center said because kids can’t be vaccinated, and because many will be back in classrooms, the likelihood that they’ll spread COVID is high, but it’s unlikely they’ll get very sick.

“While the Delta variant is more aggressive, the overall impact on the children remains the same compared to their adult counterparts, they don’t get as sick,” said Salle. “And that doesn’t mean we should all just relax, but as parents, we’re a lot less fearful”

Salle said for that reason, it will be up to parents and other family members at home to get vaccinated.

Some parents said they want more protection for themselves and for their kids.

“So just carry over last year’s program until at least the first quarter of this new school year,” said Garry Kirkland, whose daughter attends Kailua Elementary School.

Kirkland said his 8-year-old daughter returns to class Tuesday.

With the spike in cases, he’s disappointed that her school would not let them wait out the surge.

“We think it would be best if parents had the option to keep their children remote until after they were vaccinated, then obviously, the right choice would be to get back into the classroom,” said Kirkland.

“And not force parents to make the very hard choice of well, if you want to be safe, you have to keep your kid out for the entire year,” he added.

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Furthermore, Gov. David Ige said the Education Department is still offering distance-learning options for students.

“One of the lessons learned during the last school year is that having a teacher teaching in the classroom as well as online is possible,” he said.

“So the department is looking at ways that they can meet the needs of students and parents who want online learning while at the same time be able to have students in classes.”

Bryan Costa’s daughter is also 8 years old and has Type 1 diabetes. He feels he shouldn’t be forced between his child’s safety and her education.

He added students who choose distance learning won’t be on the same level as those in classrooms.

“It shouldn’t be a situation where you choose go to school, or be taught by an app, basically, a software that’s going to teach, play a little video, and your child is going to watch this video,” said Costa.

“So that being said, should the children go back to school in four days? It depends on the school that the child is attending, and are those schools ready to keep up with those basic guidelines,” said Salle. “If they are, then your child is going back to a safe scenario.”

Hawaii News Now reached out to the Department of Education who released the following statement:

“As of now, we are still scheduled to reopen for in-person learning on Aug. 3. We will continue to monitor the situation and are in contact with the Department of Health and other officials to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

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