Friday, October 23, 2020

HSTA: Latest school guidance metrics still fall short of federal guidelines

No immediate changes to second-quarter plans, per HIDOE

The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) recently released updated guidance for Hawaii school administrators (public, charter, and private) to transition between different models of learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

View the guidance here.

According to Hawaii State Teachers Association analysis of the new metrics, the DOH standards are not well aligned with risk-level metrics issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The DOH would permit schools to fully open to in-person learning (green) at COVID-19 prevalence levels that federal CDC guidance considers to be of moderate risk for transmission in schools (orange).

Near the middle of the spectrum, DOH guidance would allow all elementary students to learn in person (yellow) at levels the CDC describes as higher risk for transmission in schools (red).

At the end of the spectrum, elementary students would be permitted by the DOH to participate in blended learning (red) at prevalence rates the CDC indicates as being the highest risk for transmission in schools (purple).

The HSTA has broken down the numbers by island into weekly and daily charts as follows (click to view):


Click here to download these charts as a PDF.

The Hawaii State Department of Education said the guidance still needs to be reviewed and, as of now, there are no changes to plans that were announced for the second quarter.

Click here to view quarter two plan letters from HIDOE complex area superintendents and select principals as provided by the HIDOE.

While the HSTA appreciates that the latest metrics are not as lax as the DOH’s first attempt, we are still concerned by generous allowances that will let more students back onto campuses at higher risk levels for transmission in our schools.

Second, the definition of vulnerable continues to be a nebulous catchall that administrators are taking advantage of more and more to bring students on campuses when it is not yet completely safe to do so. This is especially true for our students in fully self-contained classes that include our medically fragile students. We’ve been told some of these rooms may have up to 20 people at a time who are forced to interact in close proximity, which increases the risk of community spread of COVID-19.

For in-person and blended learning, the DOH calls for physical distancing of ideally six feet, mask-wearing, cohorts of students with limited mixing throughout the day, and a rigorous cleaning and disinfection plan that includes daily cleaning of high-touch surfaces. From what we have seen over the past several months, schools are simply incapable of implementing these guidelines with fidelity since they lack the additional custodial staff and adequate funding for cleaning supplies.

Regularly maintaining six feet of distance doesn’t happen among students who are already reporting to campus, especially in hallways and before or after school. There’s nothing to stop students from mixing cohorts throughout the day, whether they’re riding the bus, traveling from one period to the next, eating in the cafeteria, or even going to the restroom.

We also know that our custodians are completely overwhelmed during this pandemic, and certain areas are not being disinfected daily. What will be done to make sure that mitigation strategies are being properly implemented throughout our public schools? Who will be held accountable when more and more students returning to campus are exposed to improperly disinfected areas?

After seven months of this pandemic, a few things are clear. Students learn better in person and teachers are better equipped to teach in person. However, we must realize that the pandemic imposes a unique set of challenges and circumstances that must be overcome before we let our guard down and invite another wave of infections to occur.