At least six charter schools — public schools run by independent governing boards outside the state Department of Education framework — are starting the new semester with online learning due to the latest Covid-19 surge, and it’s possible more could follow suit if case numbers remain high.

The schools include Kua O Ka La PCS, Na Wai Ola PCS and Ka ʻUmeke Kaʻeo on Hawaii island; University Laboratory School and DreamHouse Ewa Beach on Oahu; and Hawaii Technology Academy, which is a blended virtual school by design on several islands but has moved to fully virtual for now.

“It will likely change and I am anticipating possibly more schools if the infection/exposure rates continue to rise,” Yvonne Lau, the interim executive director of the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission, said of the current count of schools conducting remote schooling.

Distance learning as students resume classes using Chromebooks to attend their daily lessons from 8am to 2pm.
The length of time in which these charters planned to stay virtual vary from a few days up to an entire month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Some of these schools are moving to fully online learning for at least several days up to a couple weeks, but one — Na Wai Ola — will remain in that mode for at least the entirety of January, according to a list provided by Lau.

The charter schools did not need prior approval from the commission to switch learning models under a temporary authorization granted to all charters last May to provide flexibility during the pandemic.

Hawaii has 37 charter schools with roughly 12,000 students enrolled this year. Many of the schools are focused on Native Hawaiian cultural and language immersion.

The decision to go virtual comes as many of the 257 public schools in Hawaii experienced severe staff shortages in the first week back to school after the winter recess. However, the Department of Education has maintained an emphasis on in-person instruction despite the coronavirus surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Several private schools around the islands also began the new year with online learning.

Sacred Hearts Academy, a private school for girls in Kaimuki with about 700 students, is starting off all students in grades 1 to 12 online beginning Thursday, the first day back, until Jan. 14. Students must provide a negative Covid test before returning in-person on Jan. 18.

The school’s preschoolers and kindergarteners however are back in-person given the challenges of learning online for this age group, school president Scott Schroeder said in an interview.

Schroeder said the school is providing rapid antigen tests to all students to alleviate any financial burden on families “to make sure they’re participating in this health and safety measure.”

“Every day and every hour is a Covid preparation moment so we just keep doing our best to make sure everyone’s able to stay healthy and well,” he said.

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