With the highly contagious delta variant surging across Hawaii, the state Department of Education is looking to the mainland for teachers to help satisfy increasing demand for online instruction.
The problem is that DOE guidelines call for any teacher engaging in telework to reside within the state, which means many of the people being interviewed for the distance- learning jobs would have to relocate to the islands.
But the department may be moving to loosen the requirement after members of the state Board of Education last week urged administrators to look at changing the residence qualification to help meet the growing demand for remote learning.
Sean Bacon, interim assistant superintendent, said an internal committee is being formed to reexamine the hiring guidelines.
“There are things we have to look at and possibly get some legal advice (before) we can consider whether our teachers can work out of state,” he said.
Bacon said the committee not only will have to look at the tax implications, but answer other questions such as what happens when a teacher slips and falls at a remote work location.
Since the end of last school year, administrators focused their school planning on full in-person learning across the state in an effort to make up for the learning loss that plagued many public school students last year. What’s more, a survey of parents found relatively few were even interested in distance learning.
But after the pandemic starting accelerating in late July, the department quickly put together some distance-learning options before coming out with a plan with fewer than half of the schools participating.
Officials also created a statewide program for students from schools not offering remote options. But the program made space for only about 30 spaces in each grade level and even fewer spaces at the elementary level.
School officials continue to maintain that campuses are safe for the 163,000 or so students across the state. Only a small fraction of infected people have shown up at schools, they said, and there is no evidence of transmission or any school-related clusters.
But with the delta variant continuing to set records, filling up hospital emergency rooms and infecting children in greater numbers, parents and teachers have complained loudly that not enough remote-learning options are available.
As of last week 2,315 students — or 1.4% of the student population — were enrolled in individual school- offered distance-learning programs, officials said, while 450 students were enrolled in the statewide program. That’s out of 660 referrals to the statewide program from school principals.
Administrators said more teachers are being interviewed and more classes are being added.
“We’re doing our best to hire teachers as soon as we’re able to and fill open seats as soon as we possibly can,” said Teri Ushijima, interim assistant superintendent.
Board member Kaimana Barcarse said the demand is much greater than the DOE’s distance-learning capacity and that it will likely only get worse with the delta variant continuing to drive the surge in infections.
Fellow member Kenneth Uemura asked administrators to make the change to allow out-of-state teachers a priority and to reach out to other school districts to see how they are handling it.
“I’m sure we’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said.
Uemura added, “It seems especially during the pandemic and economic crisis we’re in, changing that guideline would create more opportunity for our students to get highly qualified distance learning remotely.”
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