Oahu public schools will go to 100% distance learning for at least four weeks when classes resume on Aug. 17, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced yesterday. After an assessment, the state plans to transition to a blended learning program of distance learning and in-person classes starting on Sept. 14.
The announcement at an afternoon press conference comes after the state teachers union called for all-distance learning as its members continue to raise questions about their safety and that of students and staff.
"This is a challenging time," the governor said. "And I know that parents, teachers and students are worried. I also realize that keeping students at home is going to be an additional burden on working parents, but because of the recent surge on O‘ahu, I agree that this is the right approach."
School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said urgency over the rising Oahu COVID-19 cases prompted the state action but discussions continue with the Neighbor Islands, where the infections are considerably lower and where a blended schedule is still planned.
Regarding the Hawaii State Teachers Association request for better health guidance on when schools would close after a COVID-19 case, the governor says the state is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The union has been demanding better guidance from the state Department of Health, which has repeatedly said the CDC recommendations are sufficient.
During the first week of school, Aug. 17-Aug. 20, students wil need to physically return to campus for training on distance learning platforms and to address any issues they have connecting online or having equipment for digital classes. Schools will pay special attention to vulnerable students and their families who may need more in-person access to schools and teachers.
Oahu cafeterias will serve only grab-and-go meals, and in-person dining won't be allowed. After-school programs are being suspended until students return to a blended learning program.
From Aug. 24 to Sept. 11, the schools plan to teach classes entirely by distance learning. Special education services that can't be provided remotely will be made available in person. And students can have access to supervised in-person learning labs at schools if they don't have WiFi access at home.
Starting on Sept. 14 and if an assessment by the schools, governor's office and state health department shows it is safe, the schools would shift to a blend of distance learning and in-person classes. But if all-distance learning needs to continue, the state would make an announcement on Sept. 8.
Kishimoto said there has been no mass increase in the number of teacher retirements over COVID-19 concerns. She said they are still trending at the same rate of 300 a year.
Teachers have been training in distance learning using teacher-created learning modules. She said substitute teachers are also being trained so they can step in and continue distance and blended teaching if a teacher becomes sick.
The state Board of Education would not need to approve the program for full distance learning, Kishimoto said, since it had already supported a "return to learn" plan that covers remote teaching.
Ige says he is discussing any change in announced plans covering the University of Hawaii with President David Lassner and the UH Board of Regents. The UH had announced its reopening plans in July, which includes a modified travel quarantine program for out-of-state students.
The governor also asked employers to provide flexibility to working parents who will need to juggle jobs and child care during the distance learning period.