Parents frustrated as COVID forces Sunset Beach Elementary students to move online

Sunset Beach Elementary School notified parents in an email on Tuesday that because of COVID issues and staff shortages the school will be going virtual the res
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 10:47 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 6:12 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sunset Beach Elementary School notified parents in an email on Tuesday that because of COVID issues and staff shortages the school will be going virtual the rest of the week.

Some parents are upset and say the COVID threat is overblown.

“I believe school should continue, even to the point of wearing masks,” said Pro Surfer Billy Kemper. “There’s so much of this, that is such a letdown.”

Kemper has two children at Sunset Beach Elementary and says his family, and many others, are now scrambling to cover work and make sure their kids can do distance learning.

“All of a sudden, you’re just going to flip the switch on them, not even give them 24 hours,” Kemper said.

“And that trickles down, now they got to take off work,” added Kyle Foyle, whose child attends Sunset Beach Elementary. “Now that person suffered, they could be a nurse, they could be a lifeguard, they could be a fireman.”

The state Department of Education says this campus has 24 confirmed infections — which is 6% of all students and staff.

Principal Eliza Elkington explained to parents in an email that because of the guidelines on close contacts about 175 students and 18 staff members were absent in the past two days.

“Given our current circumstances, I believe our teachers can reach more students if we are all on the same virtual plan through distance learning,” Elkington said. “I also feel hopeful that this will help slow the spread of COVID in our school community.”

“We have a lot of our staff members out, we’ve had spread within classes,” said Sunset Beach Elementary teacher, Rex Dubiel Shanahan. ”I believe she’s made a very, very thoughtful and wise decision.”

“My daughter is in fifth grade and this week, she’s only had 10 kids in her whole grade,” said Kate Sweetman of the North Shore. “We’ve tried to do all we can to keep our kids safe, they’re vaccinated, they wear their masks to school, but sometimes you got to do what you got to do.”

The state has been letting each school decide how to deal with the COVID issues.

A handful have gone online, and other campuses are occasionally putting kids in cafeterias or gyms.

“This is a problem that didn’t need to happen, and it has just gotten worse by a lack of planning,” said HSTA President Osa Tui.

“It’s anger, it’s disrespectful in the sense to the parents of this community that have been working hard to get our kids in our school,” said Foyle. “We learned distance learning does not work, these kids suffer.”

The Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi is among those pushing hard to keep schools open. He’s hoping to turn a corner soon.

“Preliminary numbers are showing that teacher absences are starting to decline slightly from last week’s level, it’s still 12% from last week’s levels,” Hayashi said.

Sunset Beach Elementary will be offering to-go meals and drive through COVID testing before resuming class next Tuesday.

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