The Hawaii Department of Education is recruiting teachers from the mainland to facilitate its statewide distance learning program, contributing to the delay in getting more students off a long waitlist.
Teri Ushijima, interim assistant superintendent in the office of curriculum and instructional design, told the Board of Education that at least 245 kids are still waiting to get into the distance program.
“We are doing our best to hire teachers as soon as we are able to and open up seats as quickly as we can,” she said Thursday during a board meeting. “Many of our teachers have been hired out of state, so many can relocate within a week or two.”
But she stressed that the teachers can’t start working until they arrive in the islands despite calls to let them start instruction remotely.
So far, 2,315 students, or about 1.4% of the entire student body, are registered in distance learning programs across the state, she said. A total 660 students have been referred by schools to the state-based program alone.
During Thursday’s meeting, Board of Education member Kaimana Barcarse questioned why the DOE couldn’t modify its policy or guidelines to enable the mainland hires to start immediately from their current place of residence instead of waiting for them to relocate.
“It seems to me that especially during a pandemic and the economic crisis we’re in, that possibly changing (the mainland rule) would create more opportunity for our students to get highly qualified distance learning remotely,” Barcarse said.
Sean Bacon, interim assistant superintendent in the office of talent management, responded that the current DOE guidelines require “that all employees who are on telework must be in the state of Hawaii.”
“We will be putting a committee together to look at the current guidelines and if we need to make modifications,” he said, adding that factors like workers’ compensation and residency tax requirements are part of the equation.
He also said the department was hiring teachers from the mainland to allow instructors already in Hawaii to focus on their in-person classes and avoid “putting any additional strains on the schools right now.”
On Wednesday, DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said the department has hired 18 distance learning teachers so far and was looking to hire five to seven more. Late Thursday, she said she did not know offhand how many of those new hires are from the mainland.
“The signs show the pandemic is not going to end. In-person learning cannot end.” — Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi
Toward the end of last year, many teachers had to simultaneously lead classes online and on-campus due to a hybrid system that gave parents a choice of whether to keep their kids in school.
Addressing concerns about the spike in Covid cases due to the highly contagious delta variant, Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the DOE would deal with possible outbreaks on campuses as they arise in conjunction with guidance from state Department of Health officials.
Since Friday is a state holiday, the DOE also provided its latest weekly Covid case count.
There were 383 confirmed staff and student cases since Saturday, compared with 325 the previous week. In 276 of the new cases, the DOE said the infected individual “was not on a campus during the infectious period,” indicating that the protocol to stay home when sick is “working to help prevent spread at schools.”
The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents 13,500 teachers, this week demanded that education officials negotiate a memorandum of understanding to help protect teacher safety in schools and to provide any appropriate triggers for contingency instruction.
Kalima Kinney, principal of The Volcano School of Arts and Sciences on Hawaii island, a public charter school, was one of many testifiers who pleaded with the BOE to consider the demand for negotiations.
“A clear formula and accounting will be sufficient to maximize safety,” she said.
It said requirements for the exception include a lack of new symptoms, completion of an isolation and quarantine period, and an upload of documentation confirming the date of infection and that the patient had been released.
Hayashi reiterated his confidence in the safety protocols aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus in schools.
“We have systems in place to ensure learning environments are safe,” he said. “The signs show the pandemic is not going to end. In-person learning cannot end.”
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