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Schools improvise as COVID staffing shortages leave classrooms without teachers

COVID staffing shortages are hitting public schools hard, forcing many campuses to improvise.
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 12:08 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2022 at 11:20 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - COVID staffing shortages are hitting public schools hard, forcing many campuses to improvise.

The state Department of Education said there were no school closures on Monday, but Waianae Intermediate had to switch to distance learning for the day.

“It was kind of disappointing,” said Stephen Kila, whose daughter attends Waianae Intermediate.

Kila said he received an email Sunday morning notifying them that students would be learning online Monday due to the surge of COVID cases.

“It’s really hard for parents, especially on the west side, where predominantly parents have to go to work, and childcare if it’s not readily available,” said Kila.

“It really does hamper one’s living situation.”

Staffing shortages have also forced students into larger groups.

A photo of dozens of students inside Kahuku High and Intermediate’s cafeteria is making the rounds on social media.

“The students are sitting right next to each other,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association’s President Osa Tui. “There’s no social distancing going on there.”

“But that’s our reality right now and it’s going to be that way everywhere,” said test coordinator Bea DeRego, of Kahuku High and Intermediate.

“And until something is done, whether it’s going hybrid or going remote for a while, this is what we’re going to do because we just don’t have enough people.”

DOE says some students are being supervised in the cafeteria or gym due to multiple teachers being out without substitute teacher coverage.

In addition, non-teaching staff from the Castle-Kahuku Complex Area have been deployed to help with coverage.

The state has mentioned that social distancing is not always possible on campus, but says masks and hygiene are always enforced.

“If the kids are not going to have access to a teacher to be able to be in class and learning then they shouldn’t be taking the risk of being in the class or in the gym or cafeteria with a lot of other children unnecessarily,” said Julie Logan, whose son attends Kahuku High & Intermediate.

“They should be home, they should be distance learning.”

Staff shortages are also leading to confusion among teachers.

Under current DOE guidelines, after a positive test employees should isolate for five days regardless of vaccination status.

Close contacts don’t have to quarantine unless they’re unvaccinated.

But Tui said some teachers are being told otherwise.

“So there’s mass confusion all around,” said Tui. “So, at this one school, teachers being told, stay out 10 days, but the students are being told stay out five days.”

“Something is not matching, something is not right here,” Tui added.

DOE says they are reviewing CDC’s most recent recommendations with the Department of Health and expect to have an update this week.

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