As Gov. David Ige put it, there are “many cascading impacts” of closing Hawaii’s public schools.
There are the lost hours of learning. There are the important in-real-life social interactions and connections that kids crave. For some, the only reliable meals they get each day are school breakfast and school lunch. Closing the schools to stop the spread of COVID-19 is necessary but, for some, heavy with other worries that go beyond boredom.
I first wrote about Kim Kaopuiki, a special-education teacher at Kaewai Elementary, last school year. She and other teachers and school staff get to school early so they can walk to their students’ homes in Kamehameha IV public housing to knock on doors, wake up the kids and walk them to school, where they can have breakfast and get to class. If they don’t go get the students, some of them won’t get to class. She sees all kinds of kids from all kinds of families, and for some she is the only stability in their lives.
Kaopuiki is worried about her students.
“They need routines, consequences, rewards, accommodations and modifications to meet grade-level standards. This is tough for me and for them,” she said.
While some schools are planning distance learning with iPads and laptops, her students don’t have such devices, nor do they have internet service at home. Some don’t even have a television.
Kaopuiki planned to go to campus Thursday to get her students’ phone numbers from the files she keeps in her classroom, but then the campus was declared closed.
“I only have numbers in my phone for a few because parents do not keep up with cellular phone payments. Their numbers change all the time, which is hard for me because I try to call immediately when my students are absent.”
Her plan was to work in her classroom with her door open, knowing that students, bored and wandering the neighborhood, would be looking to see whether she was there. Then she could check in on them, give them some assignments, ask whether they needed anything.
“I’m sure my kids will be looking for which teachers are on campus because we usually go in to do report cards on breaks. They come in and ask if we need help,” she said. School is where they feel safe.
Kaopuiki managed to get phone numbers for the students from a staff member who was still in the school office Wednesday afternoon. She started making calls. Of the first nine calls, two didn’t call back, and four didn’t know where their children were.
She’s trying to think of ways she could still meet with students while following social-distancing guidelines. Like many of her colleagues, she has her own worries at home: elderly relatives in fragile health, her own underlying medical issues, a large family that needs her.
But many of her students need her, too.
“Our kids are on their own,” she said.