The Hawaii Department of Education has pushed back the opening of schools until April 30, aligning the-reopening with a statewide remain-at-home order, the school superintendent said Tuesday.

DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, speaking to a Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 at the Hawaii Capitol, emphasized that the re-opening of schools by the end of April does not mean the DOE, as a system, would also be pausing its work until then.

“There’s a difference between the system being open and a school being open,” she said, clarifying that although all 256 school sites will remain closed through April 30, teachers are continuing to telework, schools are coming up with distance learning plans, and free meals are still being packaged and handed out to students at specific sites.

How fast things change: a sign at Lunalilo Elementary indicated an April 7 re-open date. Schools will now be closed through April 30. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The DOE’s updated time table is a rapid development from the last 24 hours. The DOE initially had told families that students would return to schools on April 7, a date Kishimoto repeated as recently as Monday when she appeared alongside Gov. David Ige as he announced his statewide shutdown order.

The incongruence has caused some confusion among parents, some of whom pointed out on social media that if state officials were ordering people to stay home and work from home through April 30, they weren’t sending their kids back to school until then, either.

The superintendent acknowledged this ripple of confusion in her remarks to the Senate panel, saying “I think there’s some confusion of DOE not shutting down,” as she affirmed a commitment to providing support services to families during this period.

Some DOE teachers find the incremental updates from school officials maddening.

Avi Penhollow, a ninth-grade English Language Arts teacher at Kaiser High, said while April 30 was a far more realistic date for students and teachers to return to school, it is doubtful families will return if there are signs COVID-19 continues to spread in Hawaii.

“My point is really about how useless it is for the DOE to issue speculative return dates while there are so many variables in play,” he said. “These are unprecedented times which should be used to inform future measures, not our present circumstance.”

The DOE has not yet announced any changes or adjustments to high school commencement exercises, which typically begin in mid-May.

The last instructional day on the DOE academic calendar this year is May 28.

As the hours turn into days turn into weeks where students across Hawaii have been out of school — in what has been billed an “extended spring break” — school officials are scrambling to come up with some semblance of a continuing education structure.

The DOE, on a whole, does not have a statewide distance learning plan, as is the case with the more financially equipped and well-mobilized private schools here, many of which distribute to each pupil a laptop on loan for the entire school year.

Kishimoto, responding to Sen. Michelle Kidani’s question about lack of computers and internet access for many disadvantaged DOE kids, said the DOE is looking to distribute instructional packets, or print-outs of lesson plans.

As for instructors who also might find themselves lacking robust technological set-ups, she said, “Teachers who do not have access to internet themselves, we’re making modifications for each school site via principal.”

Asked by Sen. Sharon Moriwaki whether the DOE would consider extending the school year into the summer to make up for the lost days, Kishimoto said it’s not likely, since that would require legislative funding just to keep staff on payroll. DOE officials put that figure at $5 million a day.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story had quoted Kishimoto as saying the cost was $5 million a month. DOE staff later said it is $5 million a day.

The DOE is also looking to modify graduation requirements this year for the approximately 10,000 high school seniors who are on track to graduate.

It’s not clear exactly what those modifications will entail, but Kishimoto said she’ll roll out more details of that plan by the end of the week and present it to the state Board of Education by its April 2 meeting.

“We want our 10,000 students moving on,” Kidani reminded the superintendent.

The DOE has not yet announced any changes or adjustments to high school commencement exercises, which typically begin in mid-May.

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