Hawaii Reopening Schools Is Safe, Teachers’ Union Doubts It

By Elpidio R. Estioko

Photo by Star-Advertiser

When US President Donald Trump announced last month schools will be reopening this fall, many stakeholders, including parents and school administrators, didn’t approve of the president’s pronouncement. Four weeks later today, the resistance is still there and even became more intense as 46 states reported surges of COVID-19 cases.

Despite these, the president still maintains schools should reopen and even went to the extent of threatening not to release the budgets of schools that will not follow the mandate. Although lately, he reversed his position by saying states with surges of Covid cases should delay reopening.

Apparently, Trump is not getting the severity of the virus despite Georgia reporting a 2nd grader who tested positive after first day of school and another five staff members who also tested positive in another school.

Arizona governor pushed back opening the schools to August 17 while the school superintendent is having a hard time deciding whether to follow his governor or not.

I was just reminded of civil rights icon, the late Rep. John Lewis, who said: “If you see something, say something… do something” as the situation may apply to the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the case of Hawaii, Gov. David Ige was set to reopen the schools August 4 because the state is not one of the 46 states with surging figures but with diminishing numbers at the time.

Gov. Ige needs to be careful and must make sure all the precautions are present and must have a tight-fit plan to support the plan to ensure safety for all.

According to Hawaii News Now (HNN), the teachers union that it has “no confidence” that school campuses can reopen safely in two weeks and urged the state to delay a plan to bring students back for in-person instruction until more is done to allay concerns from teachers and parents.

“Our schools need more time to be able to create a healthy environment for our students and our teachers,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, in a news conference Tuesday. “Opening our schools quickly is not something we should do in a pandemic.” He added that the Aug. 4 reopening is “arbitrary.” “One of the worst things we can do is just rush to open up,” he said.

As I See It, there are four approaches to reopening the schools this fall. The first approach is to fully reopen the schools (in-person) as we usually do before the pandemic. The second approach is a distance learning curriculum for all levels of education: elementary, middle school, college and post-graduate courses.

The third is a combination of distance learning and in-person approach (the so-called blended learning), maybe a 75% distance learning and a 25% in-person instruction or 50-50 while the in-person should be implemented on a staggered basis or a morning session and an afternoon session.

The fourth would be distance learning and those without access to the internet will receive enrichment packets. All the four approaches should consider the guidelines formulated by CDC such as social distancing, wearing mask, testing, getting temperature, etc.

On July 20, Gov. Ige said reopening Hawaii’s public schools are safe and necessary, as reported in Hawaii News Now/File. HNN Staff said the governor sought to reassure parents and teachers about the state’s plan to reopen public schools August 4, saying health and safety are the top priority for the Education Department and that protective measures are in place to keep people safe.

However, Hawaii has recently reached triple digits in daily number of Covid cases that the State’s Board of Education voted to delay the reopening of schools. On Aug. 5, the State reported 173 Covid cases in a single day.

Additionally, once campuses reopen, not all of Hawaii’s 180,000 public school students will be returning at once, the report said. Some will still be attending classes remotely either part- or full-time.

As planned, the first two weeks will be half days, and heavily focused on getting students and teachers used to a hybrid model of learning as well as building relationships, according to Education officials.

Board of Education Chairwoman Catherine Payne said: “If we have to go into distance learning again, it’s going to be really important for the students and teachers to know one another. And the longer we delay opening or 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 as a state.”

What will happen is most campuses are opting for a “blended” learning model, which means public school students will get a combination of in-person and remote instruction. “The blended learning model simply means part of your learning happens in a school building … and the rest of the days the student is logging into a distance learning platform,” schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said.

So, you will notice that Hawaii adopted a combination of the four approaches with specific measures to ensure the plan will work.

While the safety of students and teachers are assured, Corey Rosenlee, the head of the teachers union, as mentioned in the report said there are still so many unanswered questions and he added the reality teachers will be facing in the classroom is not the reality the state is painting. “Our teachers are scared. They’re afraid right now going back in the classroom,” he said.

Hawaii public schools to reopen will follow all the guidelines CDC has formulated plus putting out additional long list of local safety guidelines to be implemented by Hawaii’s Department of Education. Students will need to wear face coverings at most times and follow social distancing guidelines.

As planned, the 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.

The governor’s office will be 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.

I think Hawaii has adopted the correct approach in utilizing the “blended” learning method (third approach) whereby students will have a combination of in-person and distance learning instruction as its initial step. Eventually, depending upon the situation, students will find themselves in the first approach, the traditional method before the pandemic.

However, we need to make sure that all precautions and guidelines are followed to the letter to make sure the plan will be effective without incidents of corona surge in campuses!

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKOwas a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com).

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