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Just 1 in 10 public school students get daily in-person classes in Hawaii

  • COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
                                Hawaii public school students by instructional mode and grade.

    COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

    Hawaii public school students by instructional mode and grade.

Only 10% of public school students in Hawaii are receiving in-person instruction daily, with younger students getting the most time on campus, according to data released Tuesday.

Nearly 24% of kindergartners are getting face-to-face daily classes, a rate that shrinks gradually over the grades to high school, where it is roughly 2%. The statewide breakdown by grade level was included in a presentation to the House Lower and Higher Education Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Justin Woodson.

Schools have been prioritizing in-person learning for students who need specific services, such as special education and English as a second language, during the coronavirus pandemic. They are also providing “learning hubs” on campus for those without internet access.

But schools Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said other students whose learning styles don’t fit with sitting at a computer are also at risk.

“Right now the heavy lift of every single school is how do we reopen more of our schools to accept students, especially students we are designating as vulnerable to failure,” she said. “The best solution is the interaction and feedback that comes with working with a teacher. So it’s that balancing of how do we open our schools safely.”

Altogether, 16,531 students are attending in-person classes as of last week, while another 42,751 are fully online. The bulk of students — 112,621 — are officially in “blended learning.” But most of them are still working remotely with their teachers, with plans for certain grades to return to campus over the next month or so. Schools are targeting transition grades such as kindergarten, sixth and 12th.

House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti stressed the need to reach kids who are “just struggling with distance learning,” not only those typically considered vulnerable due to special needs.

“It appears they are following a strategy as they reopen; they are going to address those ‘vulnerable to failure’ populations first,” she said after the hearing. “That may be a very wise strategy. If we have to bring students back in a phased manner, we want to do it with the people who are falling behind the most.”

Legislators asked about academic progress so far this school year, but first-quarter grades were just uploaded last week and are being processed, so no data was available yet.

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto reported on how federal coronavirus relief funds were spent. Most went to technology devices, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

The Department of Education bought 49,244 devices, including laptops, Chromebooks, tablets and iPads, for summer school and this academic year.

“There is a national shortage of devices,” Kishimoto said. “There are about 23,000 devices that are still pending delivery, as much as we’ve been pushing providers.”

The department also purchased and delivered 17,347 hot spots, also known as mifi devices, to schools.

A chart tracking the purchase and deliver of devices is available online at 808ne.ws/digitaldevices. Distribution was based on need, including equipment already on each campus, poverty status of students and surveys. The purchases included security features and tracking.

The DOE also set up a tech helpline for parents and students. And six vans were mobilized to provide connectivity and equipment to remote areas.

Most recently, Kishimoto approved $1.9 million in federal funds to buy air purifiers in response to new advice on ventilation posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yvonne Lau, interim executive director of the Charter School Commission, said distance learning is proving difficult in certain charter schools.

“For some of our schools who have been able to provide in-person and blended learning, they have adapted well, with little or no issues,” she told legislators. “We’ve had some challenges with initial COVID-19 infections, but I think we’ve worked through that.”

“For many of the schools, the challenge has been ensuring that students are engaged even when they’re online with us,” Lau said. “Some of our schools are having difficulties with students who don’t sign in or are not attending. And with COVID-19, many schools are having difficulty reaching out and contacting parents.”

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