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Hawaii families struggle to enroll children in distance learning

While some students returned to school in person Tuesday, other families opted for distance learning due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Less than two weeks ago, the state Department of Education unveiled a distance-learning option for families who did not feel comfortable sending their children to school in person. About 100 schools are offering a distance-learning option, although space is limited. Students whose schools were not included have the option to apply for a geographic exception to distance-learn through a school outside their district.

Joni Kamiya, a health care worker, found out at 8:30 p.m. the night before school started that her two young children were able to do distance learning.

“I wasn’t going to send them with the way the numbers are. It’s too problematic,” she said.

“I’m fortunate because my mom is a retired teacher. So she can help me do that, because there’s families that don’t have that.”

However, Kamiya’s high school daughter returned to school in person because she was able to get vaccinated, unlike the younger children. Children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Clarice Smart, a COVID-19 contact tracer, also decided to put her children in distance learning.

None of the schools in her complex area were offering a distance-learning option, so she had to apply for a geographic exemption, which she got.

The distance-­learning option doesn’t start for another two weeks, and Smart was informed that distance learning would not be led by a teacher. “For all intents and purposes, it’s home schooling because the parent still has to lead and do everything,” she said.

It is up to the individual school principals to decide how they would like the distance learning to be executed. Most of the distance learning will require an adult to monitor whether the children are completing the work, while a teacher is only in charge of the grading. A few schools will offer an option with a teacher instructing students both online and in person.

Some parents are left in limbo, not knowing whether their child has been accepted into distance learning and unsure of what will happen next.

Dayna Moore has yet to hear back from her daughter’s school on Maui about whether she will be able to do distance learning. Moore’s daughter has chronic health conditions, and her family has been diligently taking precautions to prevent them from catching the virus.

“They told me today that my option is to put her in person or withdraw her and home-school,” she said.

“That to me is unacceptable.”

Moore is part of the Hawai‘i COVID-19 Healthcare Provider Task Force, which is composed of health care providers who aim to help inform the public about COVID-19 infection and mitigation efforts. The group is hosting a videoconference weekly in August for educators and parents to ask their questions about returning to school safely.

The Department of Education’s surveys gauging demand for distance learning earlier in the summer accounted for about 10% of students expressing interest in distance learning. Since then the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has spiked to numbers higher than even at the peak of the pandemic in 2020.

Kamiya emphasized the need for people to get vaccinated.

“I just hope that more parents do their part to get themselves vaccinated,” she said.

“Our kids are not going to get back to normal if the parents don’t even do their part.”

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