The state Department of Education continues to develop its COVID-19 response plan.
On Sunday, the DOE announced it would extend its spring break through March 27 for all public and charter school students, using the additional time to plan for the implementation of social distancing within schools, arrange for professional development to support modified operations and thoroughly clean schools.
The DOE did not respond to questions from the Tribune-Herald that asked about plans to make up lost classroom time or whether the department is considering nontraditional instruction days.
“Due to the quickly developing nature of the state response and the number of media requests, HIDOE’s media outreach will be more coordinated and we’ll reach out to you when plans are finalized and can be presented in a more comprehensive way,” a department spokeswoman said.
Keaau-Ka‘u-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Keone Farias said department administrators, including complex area superintendents, meet daily.
“Most of the conversation has been around taking care of our keiki,” in terms of keeping campuses clean, and following guidance from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health, he said.
Farias said those conversations are about social distancing, cleaning and keeping campuses clean and looking at “multiple modalities to deliver education” — whether that’s direct instruction when students return or online or distance learning formats to make up missed class time.
The DOE spokeswoman also did not answer questions about plans to address the loss of school-provided meals for students.
Farias, however, said a number of individuals and organizations have reached out to assist with distributing food to students.
“We’re, of course, very concerned,” said Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s Food Bank. “We do know a lot of our keiki out there, and their families, count on those two meals a day (at school). We’re trying to scramble and get a plan together to do some distribution that will help those families. It’s just a large number, to say the least.”
Albrecht thinks the DOE is attempting to work on some noncongregate feeding sites throughout the state, particularly in areas with a large amount of free and reduced lunches.
The Food Basket and community partners, however, are hoping to do “ohana drops,” which would provide a week or two of food for families, based on supplies, she said.
“I think what’s so different about this, if we can call it a disaster, is the fact of the social distancing, which impacts organizations like ours.”
Albrecht said The Food Basket, along with other food pantries and soup kitchens, are “high-touch” organizations.
“If we’re talking about social distancing, it really changes how we do business,” she said, adding that the food bank is looking at drive-through models, where residents pull up to locations in the community and have their vehicles loaded up with food.
It’s “very different than our usual high-touch way of doing business, but I think everyone understands why,” she said.
Because the COVID-19 virus can live on surfaces for up to three days, Albrecht said that also is changing the way The Food Basket works.
Rather than depending on food donations, Albrecht said the organization is ordering commercially packaged food in pallets to limit risks to clients, volunteers, staff and partner agencies.
Anyone who wants to donate can make monetary donations, which The Food Basket will “turn into food that we will order in quantity” from a commercial producer, she said.
Donations can be made online at hawaiifoodbasket.org.
“I’ve felt a little nostalgic for lava flows or hurricanes, where we kind of know what’s going on,” Albrecht said. “This unseen thing is very tough.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.