Hawaii public schools will be in distance learning mode for the entire first quarter, which ends Oct. 2, extending by three weeks the original period of distance learning, state education officials announced Thursday.

The order applies to all Oahu schools and most neighbor island schools, with the exception of Hana High & Elementary on Maui and Kilohana Elementary, Maunaloa Elementary and Molokai Middle on Molokai, according to the Hawaii Department of Education.

The teachers union had been advocating for a continuation of distance learning through the end of the first quarter. Many schools had already been planning to rely on distance learning for the entire quarter.

While most students are learning from home, many teachers are still working from school campuses. April Estrellon/Civil Beat

The original plan by DOE was for some students to return to campuses on Sept. 14 under a “blended learning” model, but the DOE said it would make the official call by Sept. 8.

In a statement, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee praised the extension but said “more needs to be done to ensure the health and safety” of students and staff.

He said there are still too many students and teachers on school campuses since the new school year began Aug. 17 and that the DOE needs to provide more flexibility for teachers to work from home.

While public school students have been learning at home, for the most part, some kids with special needs — such as special education, English language learners or those who lack internet at home — are going to school for in-person instruction.

In a conference call with reporters, Rosenlee said the union remains concerned with reports of kids clustering together in certain sections of the school without safe social distancing. The union wants all kids to be 100% distance learning, no matter their level of instructional need.

Many teachers are required to work out of their classrooms and have to put in a special request to their principal if they want to telework.

The DOE said complex area superintendents would “work with school principals to develop transition plans for the second quarter, with considerations for community-specific needs.”

The second quarter begins Oct. 12, since the week of Oct. 5-9 is fall break for students and teachers.

Oahu came under under a two-week emergency shutdown order on Thursday due to the surging number of active COVID-19 cases. Child care services, public and private schools and the University of Hawaii system, however, are exempt from the order.

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