All school-sponsored travel to the mainland U.S. and abroad will be canceled for the rest of the school year effective Thursday due to coronavirus, the Hawaii Department of Education informed parents in a March 11 letter posted to the agency’s website.

The directive does not impact inter-island travel, according to a March 11 memo from Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Additionally, all school trips scheduled to depart Hawaii today are not subject to cancellation.

The agency reminded parents that while they have the right to “modify their travel plans accordingly,” travel costs already incurred may not be reimbursable.

“We did not make this decision lightly knowing the impact it will have on our school communities; however, the safety of our students and staff is our highest priority,” the letter states.

Dept of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto during meeting.
Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto in 2019. On Wednesday the DOE announced it is canceling all school mainland trips. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii’s public school system, which serves 179,000 students and employs 22,000 people, will be on spring break recess next week. The DOE is not contemplating any preemptive measures to close schools beyond the break at this time, according to DOE spokeswoman Lindsay Chambers.

“If school closure decisions are necessary, they will be part of a coordinated effort with the governor’s office and other state, public and private partners under the guidance of the Hawaii Department of Health,” she said via email.

Hawaii has so far two reported cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. Throughout the U.S, the confirmed case count has exceeded 1,000.

Spring break is a time when many families leave the island for travel — or when schools schedule such sponsored trips. The islands’ proximity to Asia and western states like California and Washington state – among the states where a majority of U.S. coronavirus cases have been reported — have made them historically popular break spots.

The DOE has urged its own employees to heed CDC warnings about travel to high-risk Level 3 countries and not report to work for 14 days after traveling to such designated countries like China, Italy, Iran or South Korea.

If DOE employees fall ill or go into self-quarantine upon returning from Level 3 countries, they will need to use sick leave or take leave without pay upon their return, the March 11 memo says.

Private schools like Punahou and Iolani have also chosen to suspend U.S. mainland and international travel for the rest of the academic year. Punahou, in a notice posted to its website, said it is also evaluating summer school travel and will update families at a future date.

Iolani, additionally, said on its website it has decided to reimburse families for fees they’ve already shelled out for school-sponsored trips that are now suspended.

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