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Hawaii Public Schools Reopening Plan Draws More Safety Concerns

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Parents can now find out just how their child’s public school will reopen on August 4th.

Principals were allowed to choose from three options -- full in-person classes and two versions of blended distance learning and in-class instruction.

But with classes restarting in four weeks, it’s the safety concerns that dominated yesterday’s state Board of Education meeting. 

Teachers, counselors and parents submitted thousands of pages of testimony to the board about the Department of Education’s plans to reopen the schools.

Most raised questions about the safety of in-person instruction due to the virus outbreak.

"I have had children talk to me and their spit flew into my mouth," said Inga Park-Okuna, a counselor at Kalihi Uka Elementary. "And even with the mask, you know, coughs can go through the cloth for a short distance. So the CDC says even with the mask, you should stay six feet apart. So how can we even consider not wearing a mask and being less than six feet away?" she asked.

Masks will not be required in the classrooms and students won’t get temperature checks.

As for the desks, the Hawaii State Teachers Association signed an agreement with the DOE stipulating that they be at least six feet apart. But the reopening plan allows students to sit three feet apart when facing in the same direction, drawing the union's anger.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto called the dispute a misunderstanding and said the DOE is following health department guidelines.

Board member Dwight Takeno says the plan needs more consistency and clarity.

"This tremendous task is admirable. But looking at the plan and reading through everything that was provided in the plan, there is extremely a lot more work to do," he said. "And with four weeks until the opening date of the schools. I just know that we have to do a lot more within that period of time, if we are going to even attempt that day."


The board wants the DOE and the teachers union to resolve their differences over desk spacing and other safety precautions.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said in a statement that they would continue to work with the DOE to reach an agreement.

"While today's deferral doesn't stop the memorandum of understanding which is already in effect, board members gave clear direction that they would like the DOE to continue to work with HSTA to clarify language," he said.

"HSTA is still committed to protect the health and safety of our keiki and educators by maintaining six feet of social distancing and ensuring face coverings as both parties agreed to."

But even without an agreement, the department plans to reopen as planned.

To see how your child’s school will reopen, visit the DOE website.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Inga Park-Okuna's quote. The error has been corrected. HPR apologies for the mistake.


Ashley Mizuo
Born and raised on O’ahu, she’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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