A discussion by the Board of Education Thursday about bringing more public school students back to campuses in the fourth quarter showed while most people support the idea, there are numerous concerns about the readiness, the ability, and reality of increasing on-campus learning in the weeks ahead.
Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto appeared to backpedal from earlier statements that more schools should bring back students after spring break when she told the BOE that reopening campuses on March 22 “is not possible.”
The board heard fellow BOE members, principals, teachers, parents and education advocates raising questions about the details behind actually bringing significant numbers of students back to campuses in the fourth quarter.
Derek Minakami, principal at Kaneohe Elementary, raised concerns about HIDOE’s directive to bring all students back to in-person learning at elementary schools during the fourth quarter.
Minakami noted concern by principals across the state because the department announced that plan last week to the public, “without first seeking input from school leaders. Then two days ago, once the figurative horses have already bolted, we were asked to share concerns. Principals brought up a variety of obstacles, many specific to their campus and geographic area that impact the safe reopening to all schools, including having students eat unmasked while still providing at least six feet of space, or guidance regarding the maximum number of people we can fit in a confined space if you’re limited to three feet apart.”
“I think you’ll find that school leaders are solution-oriented and compliant. We’ll bring up concerns, not so much as a reason or means to block actions, but more to help make better decisions that lead to a successful implementation. We accept that our ideas will not always be agreed to and then, we do as we’re told. Unfortunately, we have not experienced this type of relationship with our superintendent,” Minakami added.
Lisa Morrison, a teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate school and the parent of a public school student, told the board, “I understand that some parents are desperate to have their kids back on campus no matter the risk, but as a teacher, I’m witnessing firsthand how this plays out in an actual Hawaii public school.”
“I wish that all parents understood what logistical problems will need to be solved and how much time that takes in order to make another switch in school models. Realistically, school employees would need a couple of weeks to even plan the implementation,” Morrison said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble says the riskiest activity is mealtime when students wouldn’t wear masks.
“In order to keep proper distancing and small groupings, there could be several lunch periods needed. Is it academically helpful to any child to have to eat as early as 9:30 a.m. or as late as 1:30 p.m.? This is a real possibility to ensure smaller numbers of students are in the cafeteria at one time. And do parents realize that much of fourth quarter in public schools revolves around standardized testing for grades three through eight and grade 11? I personally will be refusing to have my third-grade son participate in the tests, as I am not sending him to school risking COVID exposure only to not have valuable learning time with his teachers,” Morrison added.
Dr. Rebecca Winkie, whose July 1 appointment the board approved Thursday as the new complex area superintendent for the Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai Complex, verified concerns that fellow principals and educators have raised. She currently is principal at Princess Nahienaena Elementary on Maui, and previously taught and served as registrar at Lanai High and Intermediate.
Winkie told the board at Nahienaena Elementary on Maui, “I have approximately 700 students and without dropping the social distancing requirement, we wouldn’t be able to get everyone on campus. We will be serving the families again, because, as you have mentioned earlier, there are some families that are not going to send their students back, no matter what. And so looking at those numbers will be really important.
“But it’s a little tricky going into quarter four, because the students that have been doing distance learning and/or blended learning, they have developed relationships with their current teacher. They have adjusted to the distance learning or the blended learning. So to make adjustments so that you had just one teacher doing distance learning on a grade level, that’d be a little difficult right now,” Winkie said.
“But I do think it is different with every school, and the principals probably know the community and their parents better than anyone. (The) biggest concerns to me is, even if you drop the social distancing measure, is making it safe for students to have lunch and to ride the bus to school. Those are not as easy to control because it’s harder to stay in your bubble. But I think just following the safety measures we have in place and continuing to have a collaborative conversation on what’s safe and having the parents’ input as we’re going forward is the way to go,” Winkie added.