As COVID case numbers surged and the state Education and Health departments said they were updating pandemic guidelines for schools, seven Honolulu private K-12 schools queried last week by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said they were sticking to their plans for the new academic year.
All seven plan to have students return to the classroom, with remote learning available on a reduced basis, if at all.
The seven schools are Saint Louis School, Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii Baptist Academy, St. Andrew’s Schools, Mid-Pacific Institute, ‘Iolani School and Punahou School.
“We are offering the choice again for our families, but with more guidance for the online students than last year,” said Devin Oshiro, principal of Saint Louis School.
Last year, he said, Saint Louis had about 500 students on campus and 400 online at the peak of the pandemic, with the highest proportion of in-person attendance in its elementary school.
This year, “only a handful of students have signed up for online, and parents seem happy with safety procedures and things we’ve introduced, like air purifiers, ventilation, adding UV lights in weight rooms and restrooms — as everything evolved, we kind of evolved with the situation,” Oshiro said.
At Kamehameha Schools, “we look forward to the return to full in-person instruction at all of our campuses and preschools after nearly 1-1/2 years,” said spokesman Darren Pai.
“While we will keep building on our new KS Digital platform to provide more choice, flexibility and personalized learning to students, full-distance learning programs will not be widely available,” he added.
After offering a hybrid model for its middle and high schools, with 100% in-person learning for elementary students last year, Hawaii Baptist Academy “will be returning to school for full-time, in-person instruction,” said Ron Shiira, school president.
St. Andrew’s Schools classes will also be in person, as they were most of last year, said Stephanie Jones, director of enrollment management.
‘Iolani is “committed to returning to campus with full academics for all grades just as we did last year,” said Timothy Cottrell, head of school.
Mid-Pacific, according to the school’s website, was able to engage in on-campus learning for most of last year and will continue to do so this year.
Punahou, according to Robert Gelber, communications director, “will not be offering a distance-learning option” at all.
Gelber added that Punahou strongly encourages vaccination for all students who are eligible for it, “and we will be requiring any student who is eligible but has not yet been fully vaccinated to test for COVID on a weekly basis.”
Regarding vaccinations, in a recent Hawaii Association of Independent Schools survey of its 100 members, to which 53 schools responded, 85% said vaccinations would not be required for students age 12 and older, with 15% undecided, while 62% said vaccinations will be encouraged for students in that age group.
Most, 81%, of respondents said vaccinations would be encouraged, but not be required, for school faculty and staff.
Regarding daily COVID prevention measures, the schools surveyed by the Star-Advertiser expressed a continuing commitment to strict safety protocols; several volunteered they had no cases of on-campus COVID transmission last year.
All said they will continue to require mask-wearing indoors; Saint Louis also requires masks outdoors, while Mid-Pacific, in a change from last year, will phase in selective outdoor unmasking for grades 7-12.
In the HAIS poll, 73% of respondents said they will require masks at all grade levels, while 27% said they will not.
Hawaii Baptist Academy will continue to ensure classroom social distancing with smaller class sizes and widely spaced seating; several schools said they will continue to conduct contact tracing on campus; and all will continue their “stay home if sick” policy and provide some form of health check-in every day.
Another essential tool in preventing transmission was communication between families and schools, the educators told the Star-Advertiser.
At St. Louis, “parents communicating with us has been one of the biggest benefits in keeping everyone safe,” Oshiro said.
“In addition to keeping students home if they were feeling sick, parents would share if anyone in their household was exposed to COVID or if they’d gone on trips,” he added, which “made a huge difference because teachers could adjust and learning could continue.”
The schools emphasized their gratitude to students and parents, teachers, staff and other members of their communities, whose bonds and commitment to academics and health, they said, had been strengthened in meeting pandemic challenges.
“Embracing change (with) flexibility and resilience, knowing we are all in this together, is what carried us through the 2020-21 school year,” HBA’s Shiira said, “and we are carrying this spirit of diligence, aloha and working together as we press on.”