What Will It Take For Public Schools To Reopen? - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Jane McCallister

Jane McCallister lives in Honolulu with her family.


“We’re number one! We’re number one!”

The classic chant, yelled by enthusiastic young people for time eternal (at least back when Hawaii used to have state championships), now applies to a more sobering statistic for Hawaii’s public school students.

Hawaii is now leading the nation in the least amount of in-person instruction available for children grades K-12, according to Burbio’s K-12 School Opening Tracker.

That’s right. Hawaii has now sunk below California for last place in school reopenings.

On its Hawaii DOE Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan webpage, the Hawaii Department of Education states:

“The Department is working closely with state and federal agencies to safely reopen campuses for the 2020-21 school year. Please continue to check back here for updates. We will be adding details and information about what staff, parents and students can expect when school [sic] reopen in the fall.”

Forgive me, HIDOE, but after frequent check-ins for updates, I do not believe you anymore.

Clearly, federal agencies have given the go-ahead as school campuses are safely open here in the islands and throughout the continental United States. As far as state agencies are concerned, it is difficult to discern why the state of Hawaii is so far behind everywhere else on in-person schooling.

Hawaii has consistently been the state with the lowest COVID-19 rate throughout the pandemic. Hawaii is also the only state with one single district.

Some states grapple with different districts implementing different plans. Hawaii’s unique central district provided a path for statewide leadership on school re-openings.

Instead, Superintendent Kishimoto has resigned (effective this summer) with no replacement for at least a year. Moreover, the Board of Education is largely silent on the topic of school re-openings, despite their charge to “formulate statewide educational policy.”

Nanaikapono Elementary School sign. Spread Kindness Not Covid, during COVID-19 pandemic. December 9, 2020
A sign of the times at Nanaikapono Elementary School in December. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Where Is The Hope?

According to their BOE COVID Information page, the latest COVID-19 action they took was in June 2020 in a document charging school communities to “Give Hope, Act with Kindness, and Work toward Togetherness.”

Where is the hope, kindness and togetherness in schools that are obstinately still not welcoming back students full time?

Principals have been left to do more or less whatever they think is best. Apparently, absent any state leadership requiring the contrary, their best is to maintain the status quo.

Speaking of lack of leadership and communication, parents have begun reaching out to their children’s schools regarding the status of in-person schooling for 2021-2022. While school officials say that they hope school can be fully open and that they want the students back, they fall far short of actually saying the words that school will be fully open.

I empathize with the emotions of school officials, but if I am honest, after a full academic year away from school, I find myself craving concrete actions, rather than hopes and wants.

Tell me exactly what it will take for my children to be allowed back into their classrooms with their peers.

In-person instruction five days a week should be the default mode of instruction. The metrics that were made by the HIDOE a year ago need to be changed to reflect new information, such as teacher vaccinations and how the virus spreads.

Parents, teachers, students and taxpayers should demand evidence that Hawaii’s school campuses are demonstrably less safe than fully open mainland schools before another minute of in-person instruction is denied to a child living in Hawaii. If schools are unsafe, then steps should be taken immediately to make them safe.

If schools are unsafe, steps should be taken to make them safe.

Schools should consider creative solutions such as adjusting bell schedules or creating outdoor tented areas for cafeterias. The Hawaiian Islands have the world’s best weather. Mainland schools, with their enclosed hallways and forced air heating systems, would love to have the option to open windows year round and move classrooms outdoors.

I have always been a public school advocate; however, without assurance that my children’s schools will ever fully reopen again, I am finding this stance more difficult to defend every day.

Last October I wrote a piece lamenting that children were “Counting Down To One Hundred Days Out Of School.” Since then, over 200 school days later, my child has been allowed onto his school campus a total of 21 days.

Even though this is less-than-ideal synchronous/blended learning (when the teachers instruct both students at home and at school at the same time through a computer), he is incredibly happy on the days he is invited to be learning among other students with his teacher in the classroom.

If his school allowed him back to school full-time tomorrow, he would more than double the amount of days at school before summer break.

With only five weeks of school left, perhaps the HIDOE has given up on bringing more students back on campus for more days this year.

If that is true, then Hawaii will remain number one.

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About the Author

Jane McCallister

Jane McCallister lives in Honolulu with her family.


Latest Comments (0)

Private schools reopened. They provide data on what are the best heath practices but public school kids are still mostly missing out. Why? Public school parents are to blame because although they can’t afford private school tuition many still pay taxes and they need to demand that their  public schools to adopt the best private schools health practices when possible and if money is needed then use it for those needed changes not for wages. Education is not about the teachers it is about the kids. We need to vaccinate children already. We know now that they can get infected. That covid vaccination is still considered emergency use and the under 16 years are restriction is because the original limited data sampling didn’t exceed a "abundance of caution standard" (Also used in the Astrazenica vaccine-blood clot question which resulted in delaying and effectively reducing its use.)Teachers can choose as adults to be vaccinated. Children as minors cannot choose but their responsible adult should. The FDA needs to reconsider the under 16 years of age restriction as children are not immune and are more apt to be asymptomatic making them the worst spreaders. We need to vaccinate the kids

Willyee · 1 week ago

DOE has never been clear on what it will take or what measurements they are seeking to allow greater or full in-person attendance.   In fact, what makes more unclear is how each school has been allowed to make their own decisions on this.  The education experts of DOE leadership chose not to implement the measurable targets established by the health experts of DOH.  If DOE did, then most schools would actually be fully in-person right now.  I don't have the medical expertise to question DOH or the CDC, unlike the DOE so I'll just leave it at that.  DOE has made some positive movement by allowing larger in-person gatherings and activities to occur during this 4th quarter such as graduations and some athletic competition.  It would have been smarter of the DOE to increase in-person learning also to give confidence to all stakeholders and set up what the expectations are for the beginning of next school year.  However, it doesn't appear that that is happening because of DOE's inability to plan ahead properly or communicate clearly what the measurable goals are.Let's hope the interim Superintendent is not the current Deputy or HSTA.  Otherwise, it'll be more of the same.

Jean_Paul · 1 week ago

If the head of the HSTA becomes the superintendent, it will perpetuate the disfunction of the DOE. 

Fred_Garvin · 1 week ago

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