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Hawaii News

Kids back full time at nearly 40% of Hawaii’s public elementary schools

Nearly 4 in 10 public elementary schools have welcomed back all students who want daily in-person classes, and the rest have kids on campus at least some days, as do virtually all secondary schools.

Parents may still choose to keep their children at home doing online coursework this quarter even if their school has fully opened for daily instruction.

A new dashboard posted online at the state Department of Education’s web­- site shows each school’s situation: whether they are offering full face-to-face instruction; blended or hybrid instruction with rotating days on campus; or only distance learning.

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto made it a priority, especially at the elementary level, to bring as many students back to school as possible in the fourth quarter, which runs from March 22 through May 28.

Enchanted Lake is among the 64 elementary schools that have invited everyone back, while another 104 campuses are in blended or hybrid learning. The Windward school had brought back its kindergartners even before winter break, followed by other grades one at a time during this semester, with the whole school returning early this month.

“They were so happy to return to school, and we are excited, the faculty and staff, to see all of them,” said Pua McElhaney, Enchanted Lake’s principal. “It’s been real special. In elementary school they grow so quickly. It’s almost been a year since we’ve seen some of them face-to-face.”

Only about 40 of her students are sticking with distance learning out of a total enrollment of 307 at the school.

Safety starts even before kids step out of their cars. They roll down the windows to get their temperatures checked, McElhaney said. At school they wear masks, stay 6 feet apart as much as possible and wash their hands regularly. Children also stay in their own classroom group on the playground and at lunchtime.

“We want to assure our families that we are serious about COVID,” McElhaney said. “We know that there’s a lot of uncertainty out there in the community, so we want to assure them that we are taking every health and safety precaution that we’ve been directed to do.”

At public secondary schools, which have larger student populations and less space for distancing, the norm is still hybrid or blended learning. About 90% of secondary schools are in that mode.

Just six secondary schools are offering daily in-person instruction, and only three secondary schools — Maui Waena Intermediate, Lanai High & Intermediate and Pahoa High & Intermediate — are in full-distance learning.

Jarrett Middle School in Palolo is the only stand-alone middle school in the state to invite all its students back for daily classes, according to the dashboard. It started the process back in November with its sixth graders, followed by eighth graders in January and the seventh graders in February.

“My teachers were great in that they all knew we had to bring our kids back, just seeing them at home struggling or not even showing up to distance learning,” said Principal Reid Kuba. “That’s what I appreciate about my staff. It was just a matter of when, not a matter of whether we would bring them.”

The school has enough space to spread its students 6 feet apart, with about 40 of its 270 students having chosen to continue online learning.

“We’ve had kids on campus from summertime, whether vulnerable students, credit recovery or summer programs,” Kuba said. “We’ve had no incidents of (COVID-19) cases that originated from our school.”

Students have school- issued laptops at home to do their homework and a second laptop kept at school that they carry during the day to different classes, to minimize the need for disinfection.

The other secondary or combination schools with daily in-person instruction are Hawaii School for the Deaf & Blind, Hana School and three Hawaii County schools: Kalanianaole Elementary & Intermediate, Paauilo Elementary & Intermediate and Kohala High.

Campbell High School, the state’s largest public school, has students coming two days a week on a rotating basis while those with special needs attend four days a week or daily. It has a student population of more than 3,079.

In Central Oahu, students returning to Wahiawa Elementary School for full-time daily instruction on March 29 got a rousing welcome from members of the 325th Brigade Support Battalion from Schofield Barracks.

The soldiers lined the sidewalk, holding signs and cheering as the kids trundled by, one by one, on the sidewalk, toting backpacks and smiling behind their masks.

“Always under the same stars, finally under the same roof,” said one sign held by a soldier.

SCHOOL MODELS

To see what schools are in face-to-face learning or other modes, go online to bit.ly/HIDOEschoolmodels and click on “Quarter 4 School Models dashboard.”

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