The Hawaii State Department of Education announced Thursday that it will continue the Learn from Home phase of distance learning for most students statewide through the first quarter, which ends Oct. 2.
All students were previously scheduled to return to campuses on Sept. 14. This announcement delays their return by three weeks.
“We're happy that the HIDOE has decided to do distance learning for all of quarter one, however more needs to be done to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and school communities during this pandemic,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “First, we still have too many students and teachers on some school campuses. The HSTA firmly believes schools should adopt 100-percent distance learning for all students, and that teachers should be able to telework.”
When HSTA surveyed our head faculty representatives, or school-level educator leaders across the state, the following reported groups of students who are still on campus for in-person instruction:
- Fully self-contained or other small subsets of special education students (61%)
- Students without devices/internet who are utilizing learning labs (28%)
- All special education students (21%)
- English learner students (15%)
- Disadvantaged students (12%)
- Homeless students (9%)
Only 36 percent reported that their schools are utilizing 100-percent distance learning for all students.
“We want to make it very clear that there are still thousands of teachers and students that are required to be on campus every single day,” Rosenlee said. “By having so many teachers and students on campuses, we are still having outbreaks at our schools.”
HSTA is tracking nearly 30 schools that have reported at least one COVID-19 case on campus since the end of July. At Ka Umeke Kaeo, a public charter school on Hawaii Island, eight staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
HSTA is also receiving reports of teachers being denied telework, even when there are no students in their classrooms.
“Right now, the decision to allow teachers to telework has been at the whim of some complex area superintendents and principals. Some complex area superintendents have allowed teachers to be able to work from home, and others have said no. And the same thing has gone for principals. This should be a unified policy for the entire state, and unfortunately, that has not happened.
“We understand some of our members prefer to teach remotely from their classrooms, and we support teachers having a choice. But we know others want the option to teach from home, reducing their exposure to others outside their household at a time when business and government are encouraging people to work remotely whenever possible,” Rosenlee said. “The HSTA is still pursuing a class grievance and prohibited practice complaint to secure that option.”
Furthermore, the HSTA continues to push for key, successful metrics that outline the process for safely reopening schools. “Right now, no large school district in the country has been able to successfully open without a surge in cases. There needs to be clear, evidence-based metrics to ensure a successful return to in-person learning that does not create a critical health risk to our communities,” Rosenlee said.
The extension applies to all Oahu schools and most neighbor island schools. Hana High and Elementary School on Maui, and Kilohana Elementary, Maunaloa Elementary, and Molokai Middle schools on Molokai will continue their current models.
During the Learn from Home phase, schools will continue offering learning hubs on campus to provide connectivity for students who need it. Schools will also continue educational programming for vulnerable students as previously identified.
According to the HIDOE, complex area superintendents will work with school principals to develop transition plans for the second quarter with considerations for community-specific needs.
The department says it will continue to work closely with state, county, and health officials to assess if and when students can safely return to in-person blended learning models. As decisions are made, schools will communicate with families.