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Hawaii public school teacher absences rising due to omicron surge


    Hawaii Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi held a press conference Wednesday to discuss public school teacher absences amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Hawaii’s public schools are now starting to see disruptions from rising teacher absences caused by the COVID-19 omicron variant surge, state schools Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi confirmed today.

About 800 teachers statewide called out sick today, Hayashi said during a news conference. That is up from the 600 the DOE said were not present Monday.

Add them to roughly 800 additional teachers out for other reasons, and more than 12% of the state’s 12,000 teacher workforce was absent today, he said.

There were not enough substitute teachers to cover today’s absences, with about 400 substitute requests going unfilled, Hayashi said.

“The schools are doing everything they can to cover the classrooms,” Hayashi said, and the priority remains keeping all 257 of Hawaii’s public school open, but the omicron surge is affecting workers across the community in all industries.

Hayashi thanked the school faculty and staff who are devising creative ways to continue to keep students supervised and learning on campus. He also asked parents for patience and understanding, as some changes or closures could happen with short notice.

The head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Osa Tui Jr., said members are reporting that counselors, security guards, district and state staff and other workers are being called in to supervise students.

“That’s inappropriate,” he said.

Tui said the union understands the DOE’s placing a priority on keeping schools open for in-person learning, but little meaningful learning can occur when non-teaching staff are being pulled in to “basically babysit” students herded into cafeterias and auditoriums. He added that since the DOE has seen similar scenarios with previous surges, the DOE should have devised and released a comprehensive, transparent plan weeks ago, and negotiated terms with the unions.

Nationwide, most schools remain open, but many are feeling pressure to shift away from in-person learning as omicron’s threat to children is becoming clear.

An average of 672 children were admitted to hospitals every day with COVID-19 during the week ending Sunday, the highest such number of the pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It follows a record-high number of new cases among children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The U.S. had more than 325,000 new cases among children during the week ending Dec. 30, according to data published this week by the academy. That is a 64% increase in new cases compared to the previous week.

About 1,045 children under 18 have died from COVID-19, according to CDC data.

The Associated Press and New York Times contributed to this report.

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