The Hawaii Department of Education will be offering grab-and-go breakfast and lunch to children 18 and younger next week at 39 school sites as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Spread out across Oahu, the Big Island, Maui and Kauai, the meal sites tackle what had been heightened concern over students’ access to meals during a time of unplanned school closures over the worldwide pandemic known as COVID-19.

Nearly half of Hawaii’s 179,000 public school students are considered economically disadvantaged. Many depend on school meals to stay nourished.

The grab-and-go meals will be placed in containers and set outside the cafeterias of the 39 designated school sites. This will require no interaction between DOE employees and community members, according to DOE.

Ala Wai Elementary school students enjoy beefstew during lunch.

The school meals distribution during the extended school break is allowed under the Seamless Summer option.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

However, there is a limited window in which to pick up meals: breakfast will be offered from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. and lunch will be offered from 11:30 a.m. to noon.

DOE students are not set to return to school until April 7. That date had been pushed back from March 30 after education officials decided an extended two-week spring break wasn’t sufficient time to account for contingency planning.

“These are unprecedented times. We remain committed to reopening schools in some format, including distance learning, as soon as possible,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said at a Thursday afternoon press conference at DOE headquarters.

She also announced staggered dates of return to schools for DOE personnel. Principals and custodians are expected to return on April 3. Teachers are expected to return on April 6 and students the following day.

“Right now, our plan is to start education in some format by April 7,” Kishimoto said.

The period of extended closure is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the islands where the number of cases hit 26 Thursday. It is also intended to give DOE personnel time to come up with “social distancing” plans in the school setting and arrange for virtual learning, where possible.

Kishimoto said officials are looking at a “mixed-delivery approach” of instruction when students return, including web-based learning, “instructional packets” that will be distributed to remote or rural schools and scenarios where instruction is offered by teachers not necessarily on site.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which had challenged DOE’s earlier directive to have teachers return to school on Monday, said it was encouraged that teachers will not have to go back so soon.

“We are still concerned the DOE has set a date for our schools to open,” HSTA president Corey Rosenlee said in a statement, adding schools should be closed “indefinitely until we can guarantee that schools are a safe teaching and learning environment.”

The DOE at this time does not have any plans to modify graduation ceremonies, which typically occur around mid to late May. The University of Hawaii announced Thursday it will be canceling all traditional commencement ceremonies across its 10 campuses.

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