KS Hawaii shifts to distance learning after student tests positive for COVID-19

Kamehameha Schools Hawaii transitioned to full distance learning after a high school student there tested positive for COVID-19.

Families were notified about the case Wednesday, which was the first day of school for some students, whose returns were staggered.

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“Kamehameha Schools has been keenly aware of the evolving COVID-19 surge in different parts of our state, and especially those positive cases that hit closer to home affecting our own KS ohana,” said Poʻo Kula M. Kahealani Naeʻole-Wong in a letter to parents Wednesday, a copy of which was provided to the Tribune-Herald by a parent. “These cases and the situation have caused concern and indicates a larger community spread. While this situation remains fluid, we too need to be adaptive and pivot quickly in response to these changing conditions.”

The Keaau school transitioned to full distance learning as of Thursday and will continue through at least Aug. 31.

“Our reopening plans were developed to be responsive to the educational and well-being needs of our haumana, placing safety as a priority,” Naeʻole-Wong wrote. “While our organization still believes that we are at a MODERATE RISK level, this decision to pivot to distance learning acknowledges the impact that current conditions could have on our ohana and the communities we serve, erring on the side of caution.”

The intention is to keep the campus open for business other than student instruction during this time, unless county or state orders dictate otherwise, the letter reads.

After the positive case was identified, high school students were kept in their first-period classrooms to limit exposure, according to a letter sent to families Wednesday informing them about the case.

The student is in isolation, and contact tracing is underway to identify and follow up with all close contacts.

An update Thursday from Hawaii County Civil Defense, however, said the student was not among the 13 active cases on the Big Island and that the student completed all state Department of Health isolation requirements Aug. 7 and is symptom-free.

Some parents have expressed frustration over the situation.

“(Thursday) was supposed to be my son’s first day of school,” said a parent from Keaau, who spoke to the Tribune-Herald on condition of anonymity.

His uniform was laid out and backpack was ready when the parent, whose child is an elementary student, said she received notice just before bedtime Wednesday that the school would be moving to distance learning.

“I had to go break the news to him: ‘Sorry, you can’t go see your friends tomorrow.’”

Her son was frustrated.

“He teared up and said, ‘Mommy, I miss my friends.’ … I felt really bad breaking the news to him. It was incredibly disappointing.”

As a parent, she’s upset and disappointed.

“I have a full-time (job), my husband has a full-time job. I had to tell my employer today, ‘Now I need to become an elementary school teacher … ,” she said. “We just endured distance learning last semester, and it was tough. There were tears. There was frustration from my son, frustration from us. More so, I feel so strongly the family of this student that tested positive needs to be held accountable.”

She said parents had to sign a COVID-19 “acknowledgement” to keep children home if they were feeling sick.

The situation speaks to how “one single family’s decision can impact and directly impede the education of an entire K-12 student population,” the parent said. “That’s just unfair. It’s unfair to our keiki … and they shouldn’t have to suffer because the decision that this family made. I view it as reckless … .”

She did, however, praise the school’s response.

“They did notify us in a timely fashion, and it is very evident they are making every effort to keep kids safe and they are able to pivot quickly to distance learning.”

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A Kamehameha Schools spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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

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