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Most Hawaii public schools will blend in-person and distance learning when classes resume

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                DOE superintendent Christina Kishimoto stands inside one of the classrooms set up for social distancing at Kapolei Middle School on July 2.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    DOE superintendent Christina Kishimoto stands inside one of the classrooms set up for social distancing at Kapolei Middle School on July 2.

Most public schools in Hawaii will offer a combination of on-campus and online education starting next month, but some plan to resume daily in-person instruction for all their students.

Principals selected different learning models in consultation with their staff and communities, campus by campus, for the new academic year. About 14% of the state’s elementary schools chose full-time, face-to-face instruction, with the rest opting for blended or hybrid approaches.

Almost all secondary schools opted for either a “blended rotation” of in-person and distance learning or the “hybrid” model where vulnerable students receive face-to-face instruction daily while others do the blended rotation. School is scheduled to start Aug. 4.

At Maemae Elementary School in Nuuanu, which is relatively large with 680 students, teachers voted overwhelmingly for in-person instruction, according to Principal Lenn Uyeda. Faculty members discussed all three models with their peers for a couple of days before filling out their surveys.

“It came out 90-plus percent wanting face-to-face instruction,” Uyeda said. “A couple of teachers chose a different model, but they were OK with face-to-face.

“I am fortunate and blessed to have a staff that trusts each other, the administration, the custodians, everyone,” he said. “The main focus is taking care of the students and faculty and staff.”

Uyeda adjusted teaching assignments to add an extra classroom in each grade level to reduce class size. The PTSA has provided “phenomenal” support, he said, making cloth masks and donating face shields for every child, and the school bought masks and face shields for teachers.

“We have to do what’s best for them health-wise and for their education,” Uyeda said. “Our plan is still in progress. We have a bunch of people brainstorming about what needs to be done, what’s possible.”

Families across the state will hear directly from their schools about schedules and what to expect in the new academic year. They can also find out what instructional model their school has chosen at hawaiipublicschools.org, under School Year 2020-21 Models.

In some parts of the state, no public school chose full-time face-to-face instruction. Those areas encompass Hawaii and Kauai counties, with the exception of Niihau High and Elementary School. On Oahu, other areas opting out included the Aiea-Moanalua-Radford, Nanakuli-Waianae and Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani complexes, except for the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind.

Radford High School, near Pearl Harbor, chose the popular blended approach. Its 1,200 students will be split into two teams, with half coming to campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the rest on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays, students will take all seven of their classes online from home.

“We figured having around 600 kids on any given day would give us an opportunity to socially distance, minimize exposure and spread the kids out in the classroom appropriately,” Principal James Sunday said. “Right now, our goal is to space them out at 6 feet as much as possible.”

“(The rotation) does give us an opportunity to have face-to-face time, set up the online learning and for the kids to be able to meet their classmates and connect to the school,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges is connecting our kids to the school if they are here only a couple of days a week.”

By dividing the student body by last name, rather than grade level, families with children of different ages will all be on the same schedule.

“As a Radford complex, the principals met together to make it consistent for all of our families,” Sunday said. “They’ll all come to school at the same time as their siblings. Hopefully that will mitigate any transportation issues, child care and so on.”

So far, inquiries from the school community have focused on safety, distancing and sanitation, the principal said.

“Everybody is on edge when it comes to safety and the school system,” Sunday said. “We just ask for everybody’s patience. This is all new to us. We want to keep our students safe, our employees safe and we want to be safe at the end of the day.”

The newest school on Oahu, the debuting Honouliuli Middle School in Ewa Beach, is one of just a few secondary schools to choose full-time face-to-face instruction. Its student body will be made up of only sixth graders, which will make social distancing easier.

“The staff unanimously decided face-to-face would be best,” Principal Todd Fujimori said. “One of the biggest reasons why they felt in-person was best is there is no better way to build relations with the kids. In the middle school age, it’s all about building relations and helping the kids belong. That’s why the teachers said we’ve got to go all in and have the children come.”

The school sent a survey to families and roughly half have responded so far, of which “maybe 3% said they wouldn’t send their kids to school,” he said.

“In the case of a parent who feels they want to keep them home, they’ll have lessons ready for students to do that,” Fujimori said. “The teachers are coming up with ways to communicate face-to-face via Webex or even with a phone call, building that bond with the kids so they feel a part of that school family.”

Parents of students in grades six through 12 statewide may choose E-school if they want to keep their children at home full time.

Campbell High School, the state’s largest with roughly 3,000 students, has opted for the hybrid model. Administrators estimate that about 80% of students will do the blended rotation between face-to-face and online learning. Another 15% of families are expected to keep their children home full time for distance learning.

Students who require special services and normally do not respond well to distance learning — an estimated 5% of the student body — will have the option of attending school in person five days a week.

All schools are supposed to prioritize vulnerable students, including those with disabilities, English learners and the economically disadvantaged, for instruction on campus.

Every campus is also preparing to shift to fully distance learning if the coronavirus pandemic requires it.

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