State briefs for April 3

Pahoa school provides laptops for home online education

HONOLULU — A school on the Big Island distributed laptops to students who need the computers to take part in online education during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Pahoa High and Intermediate School distributed about 200 Google Chromebooks during three drive-through collection events.

The public school’s students signed release forms allowing them to borrow the laptops. The school’s online learning program began this week and staff said teachers and students are adapting to the changes.

Staff members said it was important to get the laptops to students quickly so they would have the technological capability they need to learn from their homes.

“The students need it now. Having that flexibility really means doing what we need to do to get it into their hands,” said Arjuna McGowen, a computer network technician at the school.

Pahoa High and Intermediate teachers developed curriculum using Google classroom and other online platforms.

“It was a very sudden shift for teachers to have to come up with only online stuff so we are supplementing that with hard copy worksheets and enrichment activities,” McGowen said.

Difficulties of online learning include the school’s inability to provide internet service, which can be spotty in the Pahoa area.

“There’s been a great team effort at the school to support each other in adapting to this and that’s one thing I find very remarkable,” McGowen said.

State struggling with idle workers because of virus

HONOLULU — The state government is attempting to determine how to make more workers productive amid prohibitions on less essential work that cannot be done during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some state senators were frustrated after learning executive branch leaders are unaware how many workers are being paid to do nothing instead of being redeployed or furloughed. The state government is one of Hawaii’s largest employers, with about 73,000 workers.

Democratic state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole expressed outrage Tuesday during a Special Senate Committee about the coronavirus outbreak.

Keohokalole wants idled workers to help the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which lacks enough staff to process unemployment claims quickly as job losses mount.

Keohokalole asked Ryker Wada, director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, why the labor department cannot use inactive workers to help issue unemployment checks to private citizens who cannot work remotely and were laid off because of nonessential status.

Redeploying state workers is challenging and Wada does not yet have figures of state employees who are continuing normal work, working remotely or not working while remaining on the payroll, he said.

Wada could not give a timetable for obtaining the information because the figures are being compiled by individual state departments with thousands of employees, he said.

“We have been working on this diligently since COVID has taken off,” Wada said.

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The undetermined timetable seemed particularly frustrating for several senators on the committee who said they requested the breakdown three weeks ago.

None of the idle state employees have been furloughed and using them for other purposes could be complicated by collective bargaining rules, Wada said.

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