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Students remain on waiting list for distance learning as Department of Education tries to find more teachers

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JAMM AQUINO / AUGUST 2
                                Hawaii Department of Education interim superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks during a news conference at Kawananakoa Middle School.
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JAMM AQUINO / AUGUST 2

Hawaii Department of Education interim superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks during a news conference at Kawananakoa Middle School.

JAMM AQUINO / AUGUST 2
                                Hawaii Department of Education interim superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks during a news conference at Kawananakoa Middle School.

State interim Superintendent of Schools Keith Hayashi said today that the state Department of Education would be looking at the possibility of adding more distance-learning options in light of the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases in Hawaii.

For now, however, the department is still trying to hire teachers in an effort to take care of a 200-student waiting list, Hayashi told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii online news show.

“We’re going to be doing our best to assess the need,” he said of the remote learning option. “As a department, we’re always looking to improve our services and how we can support people, so we’ll be definitely taking a look at that going forward.”

On the job as superintendent for nine days following the resignation of Christina Kishimoto, Hayashi said in-person learning was the focus of the district since the end of school last year, and he praised his principals, teachers and administrators for standing up distance-learning options in such a short time after infections began to rise due to the highly contagious delta variant.

“It was incredible,” he said. “Considering the number of students we’ve had to address, accommodate and support, for me I’m very proud we’ve been able to do that.”

But while students on the high school level have been able to find remote options, he said, some 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade remain on a waiting list.

He said a few teachers had been hired to handle a portion of the additional distance-learning students from the wait list, but they backed out of their contract. More interviews have been scheduled, he said.

Asked about the recent spike in the virus and whether there was a threshold that will result in the closure of the school, Hayashi said the department is still relying on the advice of the state health officials, a number of whom are assigned to closely monitor the school system.

He noted that only 105 cases were recorded at campuses during the abbreviated first week of school.

“Considering the over 200,000 students and faculty and staff that we have in the department, our mitigation strategies are working,” the superintendent said.

Those strategies, he said, include encouraging vaccinations for eligible students, asking students and employees to stay home when they feel sick, strict masking indoors and proper hand hygiene.

Case numbers for the first full week of school are expected to be released later today.

Asked whether the department was considering mandating a COVID-19 vaccination for all students, Hayashi said that was another decision for the Health Department.

As far as athletics is concerned, that’s a choice by students, he said, and so the department felt it could mandate the COVID-19 shot.

Hayashi said the decision to delay the start of the athletic season until Sept. 24 was done out of caution to help avoid quarantining multiple teams and canceling games, a situation that occurred during the pre-season.

Hayashi said he was confident the department will be able to continue in-person learning safely.

“To our parents who may have concerns, I just want to assure you that our school staff are working really, really hard to help support and to the best of their ability ensure everyone’s safety,” he said.

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