Ige, education leaders stress importance of reopening schools Aug. 4

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A sign reminds parents about Kindergarten registration at Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary School in Hilo on Monday, July 20, 2020.

State leaders are continuing to work toward reopening schools Aug. 4 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We see so many changes in virtually everything we do, and going to school will be a change for all of us,” Gov. David Ige said during a press conference Monday in Honolulu. “It’s not going to be the same, but reopening schools is an important part of moving our community forward.

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“It is so important for us to be able to be committed as a community to successfully reopen our schools.”

Ige said reopening schools was one of the reasons the state pushed back the Aug. 1 start of its pre-testing program for trans-Pacific travelers to Sept. 1. That plan, which will essentially reopen Hawaii to tourists, would forego a mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors who received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to arriving.

“We believed, in discussions with all the mayors, that there was so much activity scheduled for August, that it would be better to phase in the increased activities and the increasing number of cases we do expect to see as these things occur,” Ige said. “So reopening the schools was a priority for the mayors and I, and I am confident that the plans developed by the Department of Education and the Board of Education protect the health and safety of our community, our students and our teachers.”

Reopening schools is an important part of moving forward into a “new normal,” he said, but added that everyone needs to be committed to the reopening.

“We all need to think about what actions we can take to help our schools be successful in reopening,” Ige continued. “It means that every parent, every community member, has an important role to play as we reopen our schools.”

Ige said children should not be sent to school when sick, and employers need to be willing to work with parents.

State epidemiologist Sarah Park said the state Department of Health has been working with public and private schools in anticipation of reopening.

“I can’t stress enough how important that is, but it only will be successful if the community is behind it,” Park said.

That means continuing safe practices, including social distancing and wearing masks as appropriate by age. Additionally, “ohana bubbles” will be extended to “school ohana bubbles,” meaning students should maintain consistent close contacts to limit exposure.

Park said the DOH and the DOE also have been working to ensure schools have response plans in place and know what to do if a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19.

“There’s still many unanswered questions, but we know that in response to the question of whether we need to reopen the schools or not, the answer is ‘yes’ because we cannot continue to shelter in place forever, we cannot keep our kids sheltered forever,” Park said. “We do need to be able to make sure that we reopen the schools safely, and we’re all working hard to ensure that we do, so that they can get their education, they can develop socially, emotionally, as well as intellectually.”

Board of Education Chairwoman Catherine Payne said health and safety is the top priority for for the board, the department and school leaders.

“I have heard from a lot of teachers — some of them do say they are very concerned, and it is frightening to see the extent of the virus infecting so many on the mainland — but Hawaii has done … a lot more to protect ourselves, so I believe the state is safe now for children in the month of August, particularly because the tourists have not been invited back just yet.”

The DOE earlier this month announced its school reopening plan. Schools were closed in March of the prior school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the reopening plan, there are elementary, middle/intermediate and high school models for reopening.

Those models include face-to-face learning, with all students on campus daily, and a variety of blended learning models that include a combination of in-person learning and structured online distance learning.

Blended models and distance learning are new for the community, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Monday in response to a question from the Tribune-Herald.

Blended models mean part of the student’s learning happens at school, but students will utilize a distance learning platform — completing work or logging on at specific times to work with a teacher — the remainder of the time.

Kishimoto said, too, that there will be several layers of “checks” in place in schools to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including visual checks, looking for students who may be exhibiting signs of illness, and question protocols.

“Those visual checks are very effective in identifying some students quickly who may be coming to school not feeling well,” said Kishimoto, adding that bus drivers also will be using the same visual checks.

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More information about the DOE’s back-to-school plans and guidelines can be found online at hawaiipublicschools.org.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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