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HSTA says state criteria for in-student, distance learning is too slow in response to spike in COVID-19 cases

The Hawaii State Teachers Association today said it is demanding the health and education departments revise the current standard used to determine school learning models — whether it is in-person, by distance, or a blend of the two — due to the recent spike of COVID-19 cases.

The current models outlined by the state Department of Health, HSTA said, are based on two sets of 7-day daily averages ending each Wednesday. This creates a lag and Thursday’s daily case count of 322 coronavirus cases, for example, will not be fully factored in or result in any changes for schools for another two weeks.

“The current model is like being in the middle of a hurricane, but waiting until two weeks later to close schools,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee in a news release.

Rosenlee said the current process is not responsive enough, and that using the current, 7-day rolling average would be the safer and better approach.

When Lanai experienced a spike in cases in October, for instance, the state Health Department guidance still allowed for in-person learning even though the 7-day daily average from Oct. 14 to 20 should have qualified for distance learning.

“Fortunately, the [Hawaii Department of Education] did not wait for two weeks and went immediately to distance learning on Lanai, which was a prudent decision,” said HSTA.

More recently, HSTA said Maui’s 7-day average daily cases came to 11.9 for the week of Dec. 24 to Dec. 30, and 18.5 for Dec. 31 to Wednesday, for an average of 15.2, bringing Maui to the upper threshold of the blended learning model for elementary schools and learning from home for secondary schools.

If Maui used the rolling 7-day average, HSTA said Maui would firmly be in the learning from home model for all students.

At the start of this quarter, the superintendent of the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex area decided to postpone the return of about 20 Maui schools to a blended, in-person learning model, but to continue with full distance learning through at least Feb. 1 due to a recent uptick in coronavirus cases.

HSTA said while most Maui schools are in full distance learning mode, some school principals are “refusing to move to distance learning, even with the rapid increase in community spread.”

For Oahu, schools currently qualify for the blended learning model, but under a 7-day rolling average would change to blended learning for elementary schools and distance learning for secondary schools.

“The frustrating thing is that we are just days and weeks from many teachers in Hawaii getting vaccinated,” said Rosenlee in the release. “As more people in Hawaii get vaccinated, numbers will go down. We need to be patient for just a little longer.”

The Department of Education, in a written response, said that in addition to the Health Department’s reopening guidance, schools and complex areas are constantly monitoring daily case counts and “continuously planning for potential adjustments that prioritize the health and safety of their school community.”

“It should also be recognized that the potential uptick in cases following the holidays was taken into consideration while planning for third quarter learning models,” DOE said in a statement. “Schools were careful to plan for any transition to different stages in their reopening plans to avoid moving in and out of learning models.”

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