Updated: October 4, 2022
By Wendy Osher
The state Department of Education still plans on re-opening classrooms in August for the Fall semester. The department’s plans were reviewed on Thursday afternoon with the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19.
Three Teaching Models to Choose From: Principals Decide
Schools have three options to choose from: fully reopen with every student on campus for in-person instruction; come in on a rotating schedule with students doing both distance learning and in-person instruction; or do a full distance learning program.
State School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said models for individual schools are determined by the principals of respective schools. DOE officials say in-person instruction is being prioritized for kids in grades 2 and under as well as for students with special needs.
Schools will use the first two weeks to practice protocols to make sure parents have feedback and are involved in the health and safety protocols. The Department’s directive to schools is to focus the first two weeks of the new school year on three priorities: assessing student learning needs; testing and adjusting school safety protocols; and conducting employee training and preparing for classroom and virtual instruction.
3 vs 6 Feet of Distancing and the Bubble Concept
The goal was to look at how the DOE could maximize space on a school campus to respond to a parent survey that showed that about 85% of families were saying they wanted a seat at school in-person with face-to-face instruction. “We knew there was a real leaning towards face-to-face instruction and efforts were made to maximize that within the safety guidance,” said Kishimoto.
The DOE used guidance from the state Department of Health and national guidance including reference to the CDC and American Association of Pediatricians.
“Students should remain at six feet apart and not share objects ideally, but as not only the American Association of Pediatricians, but CDC says that is ‘as-feasible.’” said state Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson.
He read the guideline outlined by the CDC saying, “The CDC recommends that spaced seating six feet apart when feasible, (just the way AAP does). In many settings six feet between students is not feasible without limiting the number of students. Evidence suggests that spacing as close as three feet may approach the benefits of six feet of space, particularly if students are wearing face coverings and are asymptomatic. Schools should weigh the benefits of strict adherence to a six foot spacing rule between the students with the potential downside if remote learning is the only alternative.”
“Obviously, if they can can make six feet work, that’s better than three feet–there’s not question about it,” said Dr. Anderson who is being tasked by the governor to convene a group of experts representing all the counties to look at trigger points for when schools would close. “In the hierarchy of things, I would certainly put the starting of the schools as a very important activity, but it has to be under appropriate conditions.”
The conversation and planning came in part from a discussion about accommodating high-need populations, according to DOE officials. “We know we have some schools where if we’re prioritizing in-person instruction to our highest need students including–special education, English language learners, high-poverty high-need, homeless–that some of our schools are not going to be able to even capture their highest needs if they have a high need population,” said Kishimoto. “So it was about looking at maximum flexibility within the health guidance.”
Hawaiʻi Department of Health Epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Park said, “The recommendation across the board is to try and maintain the same consistency of close contacts–and the younger the child is, the easier that is to do, because children at the younger ages aren’t changing classes, aren’t changing teachers… that’s the most important thing.”
For the older students, Dr. Park said, “they’re not able to maintain the same consistency of contacts. And that’s where really we discussed the 3-6 feet because our recommendation was–understanding space constraints, older children who can sit still in their classroom and face forward in the same direction–as long as they’re facing in the same direction and understand that they need to state that way–that three feet could be an option and encouraging them to wear a mask if they’re going to be within in that distance.”
DOH officials say it’s essentially a combination of measures that must be considered. They continued to encourage hand washing, mask wearing and maintaining a distance. If they’re facing each other, six feet is the guideline.
Dr. Park said, “The only way to completely obviate risk for kids, teachers–for anyone–is you stay home. And I think everyone understands that’s not an option. We can’t shelter in place forever. But I will tell you, that is the only way you will never be infected.”
She continued saying, “No matter what level of disease activity, there is always potential for the risk of infection. The measures that we are all talking about is to try to minimize impact so that if infection is introduced unfortunately into a school, that because there’s been consistency of close contacts and each classroom is their own bubble, that bubble is a bubble that is affected, but not the entire school.”
Extracurricular Activities Begin Aug. 19
Hawaiʻi State Department of Education announced Friday that extracurricular and co-curricular activities are scheduled to begin in person on Aug. 19, to coincide with the with the Department’s directive. Extracurricular and co-curricular activities include, but are not limited to, athletics, band, academic competitions and clubs.
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino responded to Maui Now’s request for comment about the timing of the return saying, “I believe that right now would be a good time to start up various activities. When it comes to extracurricular activities, if social or physical distancing can be done, wearing of a mask if possible, and the safety and well-being of our students are kept as the priority, I fee confident we can start up.”
He continued saying, “We’ve been keeping our youngsters cooped up at home and not really being able to get out and participate with their friends and family as far as activities like sports, band and other areas. So, I believe they have protocols put in place… but I think that confidently, they’re working to make sure that the safety and well being of our students is priority and they’re not going to do anything to endanger them.”
County of Maui donates 7,000 face masks and 3,000 gloves to public schools
The County of Maui is donating 7,000 face masks and 3,000 nitrile gloves to the Hawaiʻi Department of Education for public schools in Maui County, Mayor Michael Victorino announced Friday.
“As parents and teachers prepare for the start of classes, we wanted to provide some support to our local schools,” Mayor Victorino said in a press release announcement. “Face masks are an important way to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. These donated face masks are intended as a back-up in case students or teachers forget their masks at home or need to replace them while at school.”
According to the mayor, the masks were made for the Conference of Mayors when the pandemic started ramping up in April of this year.
Lindsay Ball, one of two DOE Complex Area Superintendents for Maui thanked the county for the support saying the PPEs are very much needed. “We don’t have all the supplies and PPEs that we need… Our schools and our principals are working very diligently in trying to get their plans submitted to us and getting ready for the reopening of school,” said Ball.
“We will continue working with the DOE on how we can further assist our teachers and provide a safe learning environment for our keiki,” Mayor Victorino said.