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Hawaii public-school student absences up dramatically in latest COVID-19 surge, report says

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A new report shows for the first time the dramatic rise in student absences at Hawaii public schools during the surge of the COVID-19 omicron variant, with many schools reporting absentee rates two to four times higher than pre-pandemic times.

Some examples from the full list being reported to the Board of Education today:

>> The Waianae complex had the highest absentee rate on Oahu for the first week of school with 28.6%. That was up from its first-semester average of 17.6%. Before the pandemic, the average was 9.9%.

>> The McKinley complex in urban Honolulu was near the middle of the pack with a student absentee rate of 21.8% in the first week of school, Jan. 4 to 7, as the surge was on the upswing. That was significantly higher than its fall-semester average of 12.3%. In the semester before the start of the pandemic, McKinley’s absentee average was 8%.

>> The Kalani complex had the lowest absentee rate in the state for the first week of school at 11.5%, but that was still more than double its 5.1% average from the first semester. Before the pandemic, the average was 4.4%.

>> The complexes with the highest rates statewide for the first week of school were Lanai at 33.9%, Kau at 33.4%, and Molokai at 29.1%.

The report says 3,369 cases of COVID-19 among students, teachers and staff were reported statewide between Dec. 10 and Jan. 9.

The education department’s COVID-19 dashboard today shows 1,123 cases reported statewide Tuesday, the highest number since school came back from winter break. The schools’ daily average is 563.

The report is expected to be formally presented to the board by interim schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi at the board meeting today. The department continues to maintain that it is committed to continuing in-person learning as much as possible.

At least three of the state’s 257 public schools have temporarily shifted to virtual learning due to a rise in COVID-19 cases and/or teacher and staff absences. Waianae Intermediate School went remote for one day and came back Jan. 11. Sunset Beach Elementary students returned Tuesday after three days of distance learning. On Kauai, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School went virtual Tuesday and for the rest of the week.

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