Hawaii’s public school system will extend its spring break recess by one week amid the rapidly changing landscape surrounding coronavirus, Gov. David Ige announced at a Sunday afternoon press conference with state officials.

Students were scheduled to start spring break on Monday. The break has been extended to two weeks, with students to return to class March 30.

“Obviously, that is subject to change depending on what conditions are,” Ige said.

The governor provided details on three more positive cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii, bringing the state’s total now to seven.

With DOE spring break extended by a week, Hawaii public schools students are not set to return now until March 30. April Estrellon/Civil Beat/2020

Ige, joined by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Health Director Bruce Anderson, state epidemiologist Sarah Park and Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami, said the three new cases are all “travel-related with exposure outside the state of Hawaii.”

They include an Oahu resident who traveled to Colorado from Feb. 29 to March 7; an Oahu resident who traveled to Florida with family on March 8; and a flight attendant working for Air Canada whose stops had previously included Germany and is now in self-isolation on Maui.

However, Ige said there is still no evidence to date on community spread at this time.

“All 3 (new cases) are travel-related with exposure outside the state of Hawaii,” he said. “Once again, we do not believe that community spread of the virus has occurred — at least that we have evidence for.”

In a press release Sunday afternoon, DOE officials said the additional week of spring break from March 23 to March 27 will allow administrators time to develop a plan for “social distancing within the school setting,” thoroughly clean schools and arrange for professional development to help support adjusted operations.

The one-week extension will not impact faculty or staff and they are still expected to return to school on March 23, according to the DOE.

“The extension of spring break is actually for students so adults can work on plans to help us be proactive of what we’re going to do should the virus continue to impact our operations,” Unebasami said.

Sunday’s announcement by the DOE comes amid an unprecedented announcement of school closures across the country — the most recent being New York City public schools, the largest school system in the country. Schools there will shutter until April 20, and possibly even the rest of the school year.

Hawaii, the country’s 10th largest school system enrolling 179,000 students in traditional and public charter schools statewide, is not currently contemplating school closure beyond the spring break or for the rest of the academic year, which ends May 28, according to Unebasami.

“We know it’s a complicated situation,” she said. “The wisest decision right now is to give administrators time to plan without students, to see whether facilities and types of activities can continue, need to be modified or need to be canceled.”

One big concern is low-income kids’ access to school meals. Close to half of students in the DOE are from economically challenged households, according to the Hawaii DOE’s 2019-20 figures.

Nearly 85,000 public school students quality for free or reduced price lunch while another 3,604 students this school year are classified as homeless.

Unebasami said the DOE has asked its food services branch to come up with a plan that “ensures we’re reaching our students who rely on free breakfast or lunch” during the four additional days of spring break (the extended week encompasses a state holiday, Prince Kuhio Day, on March 26).

At this time, there are no plans to modify DOE graduation ceremonies, which usually begin on staggered dates in late May, often in major venues like Aloha Stadium or the Hawaii Convention Center.

Other planned school and DOE-organized events consisting of at least 100 attendees have been canceled effective Monday, according to a DOE press release.

The DOE’s decision to extend spring break follows the University of Hawaii system’s announcement last week to move to all-distance learning following spring break next week. Online delivery of courses will begin March 23 and continue until April 13 until further notice across all 10 UH campuses, President David Lassner had said.

At Sunday’s press conference, Caldwell said the city will work with its staff to see if telecommuting or work-from-home options can be accommodated to account for the additional week of childcare needed during an extended spring break.

The mayor added he would like to see people work from home, both in the public and private sector.

“It’s going to be a long slog,” he said. “It’s not like a hurricane coming, this is going to go on.”

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