The Hawaii Department of Education is anticipating reopening some school campuses by the start of the new school year in early August, although guidance on this front so far has been piecemeal and scattered.

In a conference call with parents Tuesday afternoon, Hawaii Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto “stated a desire to have in-person learning resume for elementary grade levels,” the DOE communications office said in a recap of her remarks Wednesday.

She was responding to a question about juggling childcare with full-time work in the event school doors remain closed.

But “a desire” is not the same as an official position, and some groups want to hear more on how the DOE will ensure classrooms will be safe to reopen in two months for staff and students alike.

Although DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she would like to see elementary schools reopened by next school year, it’s unclear exactly which safety protocols schools will follow.

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In a blog post Wednesday directed at its 13,700 members, the Hawaii State Teachers Association said “the department is still planning exactly how instruction will be delivered next school year.”

“No decision has been made,” the post states, adding that since late April the union has “repeatedly asked” what model the DOE will use to reopen schools next school year or how teachers and students will be trained for continued distance learning.

“The HSTA anticipates conversations with HIDOE in the next few weeks to discuss reopening,” it states.

Hawaii public schools reverted to distance learning as of mid-March, to stem spread of the coronavirus. Students lost 46 days of in-person instruction, with many dropping off from any kind of enrichment altogether due to lack of technological capabilities at home. Data collection so far has been scant.

The DOE, however, has scattered some clues as to what it envisions for classroom models come August.

On Tuesday afternoon, it posted a one-page flyer on its website titled “Guidance for Reopening Schools,” that includes recommendations from the Hawaii Department of Health, to go into effect July 1.

The flyer includes social distancing recommendations for classrooms, cleaning protocols and school bus ridership guidelines.

The guidelines call for keeping the same group of students with the same staff throughout the day, to maintain a distance of at least 3 feet between seats, or at least 6 feet if students are facing one another and to require face masks outside the classroom.

The guidelines also say that meals should be eaten in classrooms or designated outdoor spaces, windows kept open for natural air circulation, and to prohibit offsite field trips.

It also recommends to regularly clean and disinfect frequently-used surfaces like door handles and sink handles and make sure soap and water and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is available for staff at all times.

As for school buses, the flyer states “students, drivers and anyone else riding the bus should wear face coverings,” and that physical distancing be provided between children, with no other specifics.

DOE guidelines for reopening school safely require students to wear masks and practice social distancing on the bus.

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The guidelines do not differentiate between grade levels or various ages of kids.

The DOE, meanwhile, is experimenting with a return to classroom instruction for the most high-needs students during summer school. Who receives face-to-face instruction, however, seems to depend on each school.

Kanoelani Elementary Principal Stacie Kunihisa said she is being proactive with her school community by quickly and effectively communicating any DOE guidance.

“The minute anything comes out — any decisions made for our schools — I’m contacting the parents on a regular basis as much as possible,” she said. “I’m not going to jump the gun either. Everyone is waiting for answers.”

Earlier this week, the DOE distributed surveys to parents on distance learning needs. The 36-question survey, developed by outside data analytics firm Panorama Education, asks questions related to device and Internet capability at home, the frequency with which a student participated in distance learning this past quarter or a parent’s comfort level in aiding a child at home with distance learning.

The survey, open through the end of the month, also collects household information like race or ethnicity of the family and whether they speak languages other than English at home or have experienced housing or other economic difficulties due to the pandemic.

“The family surveys will provide valuable feedback about individual community needs,” DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said via email.

In an emailed statement recapping the superintendent’s Tuesday call with parents, the DOE said it “will be taking lessons learned over the summer to inform what delivery models will look like for the fall.”

“It will likely include a blended approach, providing in-classroom learning as well as distance learning opportunities for secondary students for families that can and want to take advantage of that,” the DOE noted.

Parents for Public Schools Hawaii, an advocacy group, recently posted results of its own survey of public school parents taken between April 2 and May 11.

Among the findings: nearly half of the 216 respondents did not know whether their child’s school distributed a digital device to families that needed one, families who expressed the greatest need for computer loans were in elementary grades, and the majority of those surveyed said their kids heard from their teacher or school at least three times a week this past quarter.

The survey also said it could glean five themes through the responses.

Those include a need for more access to devices and Internet connectivity, concern from parents they couldn’t adequately support their kids with remote learning, fears of missed social-emotional learning, concern for the gaps for special needs students and lack of motivation by students since no grades were issued in the final quarter of the 2019-20 school year.

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