Gov. David Ige said Monday he was confident the Hawaii Department of Education’s school reopening plan protects the safety of the community and said reopening schools is a priority for state leaders and county mayors.

“Going to school will be a change for all of us. It’s not going to be the same but reopening schools is an important part of moving our community forward,” the governor said at a joint press briefing with DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Board of Education chairwoman Catherine Payne and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park.

Ige also added that the state’s decision to delay reopening Hawaii to travelers from outside the state from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 was driven in part by the DOE’s Aug. 4 return date for students.

Citing Hawaii’s relatively low rate of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, the governor said it would be better to phase in increased activities rather than have them coincide with the start of the new school year.

Dept of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto during press conference on pay increases for special needs teachers.
An earlier photo of Christina Kishimoto, left, the governor, and BOE chairwoman Catherine Payne. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

He said employers have to be willing to work with parents to help them arrange for child care as students return to school.

Each of the state’s 257 individual schools have decided how they will begin the new school year. Some will bring back students onto campus in alternating groups to reduce the number of people on campus.

Many schools have opted for a hybrid distance learning plan where students will learn remotely when they’re not physically on campus.

Monday’s press conference happened several days after a testy briefing by DOE and Department of Health officials at a Senate committee hearing. Lawmakers questioned whether appropriate safety protocols had been thought through when it comes to bringing students and staff back into classrooms.

Kishimoto said at Monday’s conference “thousands” of the state’s teachers participated in training over the summer and that the DOE is making the first two weeks of the new school year half-days so teachers can get more training opportunities.

Payne said Hawaii overall had taken the right precautions to make it safe to open schools back up in August — “in particular, because the tourists have not been invited back yet,” she said.

She said that first month of the school year will be a time for “teachers and students to build a relationship” should the state have to later turn to all-distance learning due to a sudden spike in coronavirus cases.

“If we go straight into distance learning, we’re going to lose a lot more children to deficient educational services than we can afford to lose in the state,” she said.

Kishimoto also said the governor’s office was releasing additional available federal funds to the DOE to purchase things like personal protective equipment, distance learning platforms and digital devices and to also hire more registered nurses.

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