A small number of Hawaii students could be back in the classroom this summer at a few Department of Education schools, the state schools superintendent says.

In remarks during a “Covid-19 Care Conversation segment” on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s website Thursday morning, schools chief Christina Kishimoto said the DOE will have “small classroom offerings” of a maximum six to eight students per class, reserved for students who have struggled accessing or using a device for remote learning.

But it’s not clear how the DOE will determine which students would qualify for in-person instruction. When asked to elaborate during the chat, Kishimoto said it would be “for the students who are most struggling.”

Central Middle School portable classrooms on front lawn.
Summer school learning will be offered across 18 DOE school sites, starting in June and lasting for about a month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Later in the conversation, she raised the possibility that special education students could have priority.

“We’ll be able to see in this summer session how this works, in terms of the small groups, where special education students are typically educated,” she said, adding such instruction could be further limited to a 1-to-1 or 2-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

The superintendent’s comments come as public schools approach the end of the current academic year;  the last instructional day is May 28. Students have been out of the classroom since spring break in mid-March, and have lost 46 days of in-person instruction during the final quarter.

Kishimoto has said the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 4, will have a blended learning approach, incorporating both virtual learning and in-person instruction.

“The reality is, all teachers need to know how to teach via distance learning moving forward,” she said Thursday.

How that hybrid model will look is still to be determined.

“What that looks like, is what we’re designing now,” Kishimoto said during the online forum. “We need to stagger the start-up, reintroduce teachers and staff to new safety measures when coming into the school building.”

Summer School Programs

But it seems summer school could be the new testing ground for a return to face-to-face instruction.

The DOE will implement safety precautions for both staff and students and the superintendent said they will use the most updated guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health — “guardrails we have to make decisions within,” she said, adding, “not all of them are clear at this point.”

In an email to Civil Beat late Thursday afternoon, DOE spokesman Drew Henmi said the department had no further updates regarding summer school protocol, but that it plans to announce plans next week.

A majority of the 18 DOE school sites designated for summer learning are offering online-only instruction, with explicit instructions to parents and students that they must own a computer and have a reliable internet connection to access these classes.

“All students are required to have access to the following: computer, internet access, headphones (if needed) to complete summer school course. Unfortunately, we will not be loaning computers/laptops,” according to the summer school description for Leilehua High School in Wahiawa.

“You can utilize desk tops, laptops, chromebooks, tablets, and even some phones … although that may prove to be more difficult and is not highly recommended,” says a guide for Campbell High, another DOE summer school site.

These prerequisites for summer school registration could be another point of frustration for families who have struggled with internet connectivity or tech device access since the DOE shifted to distance learning.

Not every student has been able to participate because of access issues, but the DOE has been unable to provide a statewide estimate of how many students are being shut out and where they are.

Summer school through Hawaii public schools isn’t free, with tuition ranging from $63 to $95 for a half-credit course and up to $127 to $190 for a full-credit course. The classes are offered beginning in June and run through the beginning of July, depending on the school.

Summer school instruction typically is for students who want to make up credits or get a head start on the next school year. It’s also an accelerated timetable, with one school day the rough equivalent of one week of regular school, according to Leilehua High.

The DOE couldn’t say how many students access summer school in a typical year and how many are expected to enroll this year.

Spaces across the 18 DOE summer sites, even those offering online-only instruction, are also limited, with some schools reserving seats for that school’s enrolled students or those who plan to enroll next year.

The DOE also offers online classes throughout the year through “e-school” but it’s not accepting any more registrations for this summer and has long waitlists, according to a notice posted on the DOE site.

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