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Full distance learning unpopular with Oahu voters

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                                Students returned to ‘Iolani School in September with lots of safety precautions.


    Students returned to ‘Iolani School in September with lots of safety precautions.

Nearly half of Oahu voters believe schools in Hawaii should be giving students a mix of on-campus and online instruction, rather than full distance learning, according to the Hawaii Poll.

The hybrid option was more than twice as popular as any alternative and had the backing of 47% of poll respondents. The remaining voters were split, with 20% opting for all in-person classes, 17% for only online instruction and 16% unsure of the right approach.

“I think it should be a combination of both online and in person, because I don’t think one extreme or the other is going to work right now,” said Janice Kekuaokalani, one of the poll respondents, who lives in Palolo. “You can’t be that rigid; you have to be a little bit flexible. It has to be whatever works for either the student, the teacher or the school.”

The mixed instructional approach brings students to campus on rotating days to reduce the head count and enable physical distancing and other safety measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most public schools on Oahu are in distance learning, although some students who need specialized support services or internet access are coming to campus. Some principals plan to bring one or two grade levels back later in the fall, while others have announced they will be in distance learning until the end of the semester.

The teachers union has staunchly advocated for full distance learning at least through December, saying it is safest for its members and the community at large. But that option is less popular with the broader public, the poll shows.

Many private schools have brought students back to school, either for full in-person instruction or in a staggered fashion. ‘Iolani School students returned to school last month, and Punahou brought its students back to campus last week for the first time since March.

The option of full distance learning is not embraced by many registered voters, the poll found. Women, in particular, were less inclined toward full online learning, with just 12% of women choosing that option, while 52% supported a blend of online and in-person, and 17% wanted full in-person. Among men, 42% favored the mixed approach, followed by 24% opting for full in-person, 22% for online classes only. The rest were unsure.

The Hawaii Poll was conducted Oct. 12-14 by telephone by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Washington, D.C. It includes 625 registered Oahu voters who said they are likely to vote in the general election, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The schools issue showed substantial variation by political party. Democrats heavily favored the mixed approach of rotating days for on-campus instruction, with 59% choosing it. Another 19% favored full distance learning, and just 6% wanted full in-person instruction.

Among Republicans, on the other hand, the most popular option was full in-person instruction, with 41% choosing it. Next up was the mixed approach, endorsed by 29%, while 14% of Republicans favoring full distance learning.

Independents fell in the middle with 43% backing the mixed approach.

Opinions about schooling also varied by age. Support for in-person instruction was twice as high among those age 50 and over, at 27% compared with 13% for those under 50.

Many families have told the Board of Education that distance learning isn’t working for their children and urged a switch to the hybrid model at least, which gives kids some days on campus each week, or full in-person instruction.

Maureen Mench, a psychologist in Kailua, works every day with people affected by the pandemic and thinks kids need to be back in school.

“Our children are suffering emotionally, mentally, physically and education-­wise by not being in the classroom,” she wrote in testimony for the Board of Education’s Oct. 1 meeting.

Mench had hoped her own two children would be able to return to their public elementary school after fall break — either full time or on a hybrid model. But the Kailua-Kalaheo complex of schools has decided not to return to in-person learning until January.

“Our children need to see their teachers, play with their friends and get off their devices,” she wrote. “It can be done! Multiple private schools are conducting face-to-face learning and the public schools can and should as well.”

“The risk of contracting COVID-19 is low especially with the significant safeguards in place to keep our teachers and children safe,” she added. “There will always be a risk and as a parent I am willing to take that risk as I think negative consequences of my children being taught online far outweighs the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.”

Hawaii’s schools do give parents the option of opting for full distance learning, but teachers are generally on campus. And many employees are wary about reopening schools to large numbers of students.

“Hawaii should not be guinea pigs in reopening of schools,” wrote Salena Lee, a paraprofessional educator in Wahiawa who has three daughters in public school. “There are still COVID positive cases islandwide on DOE campuses and schools are not open yet. This is too many and too dangerous, especially for those with multi-generational families and kupuna.”

Opinions on schools

Oahu voters want schools to offer in-person and online classes, according to the Hawaii Poll.

Question: Do you think schools in Hawaii should be:

A mix of on-campus and online instruction: 47%

All in-person classes: 20%

Online classes only: 17%

Not sure: 16%

Source: The Hawaii Poll, a telephone poll of likely voters conducted Oct. 12-14 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Washington, D.C. Sample size: 625. Margin of error: plus or minus 4 percentage points.

HI1020Poll Copy Full Poll by Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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