UPDATE, 4 P.M.
The first four weeks of the public school year on Oahu will be entirely online starting Aug. 17, it was announced this afternoon.
Gov. David Ige and state Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, speaking at a virtual press conference, said concerns over the dramatic rise of COVID-19 infections on Oahu prompted the move.
Schools on the neighbor islands, which are experiencing fewer virus cases, will start the year as previously scheduled with blended learning models, although educators in each of the outer districts will decide exactly how to go forward next week, the superintendent said.
Kishimoto said there will be three phases to the start of the new year:
>> First phase, in-person training (Aug. 17-20): Students will physically return to campus on a coordinated and scheduled basis, determined by each individual school, to connect with their teacher, receive training on the distance learning platforms, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology. Special considerations will be given to vulnerable students and their families for more in-person access to the school and teachers.
Starting on Aug. 17, Oahu cafeterias will be serving only grab-and-go meals. After-school programs will be suspended until students return to in-person blended learning models.
>> Second phase, ready to learn (Aug. 24-Sept. 11): Full distance learning will be implemented. Staff will report to their designated work sites for continued distance learning instruction. Special education services that cannot be provided in a distance learning format will be available in person. Supervised in-person learning labs at schools will be available for students who do not have WiFi access.
>> Third phase, transition to blended learning (Sept. 14): Officials will assess whether or not students can safely return to in-person blended learning models. If distance learning will continue for the remainder of the first quarter of school, an announcement will be made.
Kishimoto took a minute to address public school students: “You have been at the heart of every decision we faced. We know you are eager to see your teachers and friends again. We are excited to welcome you back and continue your education journey.”
Hawaii’s public teacher’s union this morning called on Gov. David Ige and the state Department of Education to switch to 100% online instruction in light of the current spike in COVID-19 infections.
“Hawaii can no longer pretend we are not in the middle of a pandemic and somehow our keiki and our teachers are impervious to this virus,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee during a virtual press conference.
The move comes on a day when the state announced 201 new cases of the coronavirus and two more virus-related deaths, bringing the state fatality total to 31.
Today’s total daily case total caps a week of triple-digit numbers. With health officials saying they expect cases to continue to rise, Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Thursday announced the reinstatement of some COVID-19 restrictions, including a 14-day interisland travel quarantine for all islands except Oahu and the closure of Oahu parks and beaches.
On Thursday night the HSTA board of directors voted unanimously to call for 100% distance learning starting Aug. 17 through the end of the first quarter or until the schools are safe from the virus.
The union’s board also restated its request to the state to provide written criteria for what makes for safe on-campus learning.
“The HSTA is asking Gov. Ige, Superintendent (Christina) Kishimoto, the Board of Education and the Department of Health to take immediate action to protect the lives and safety and health of our keiki, our teachers, our school staff and our community,” said Rosenlee, a Campbell High School social studies teacher.
“Online classwork cannot replace face-to-face learning, but it ensures that our keiki and our community remain safe,” he said.
The Department of Education is planning to welcome back students Aug. 17 with new protocols and a mix of traditional in-school instruction and distance learning in a move to limit the spread of COVID-19.