How will public schools reopen? We looked at Hawaii

Hawaii public schools plan to reopen campus starting Aug. 4. But despite Hawaii’s success controlling COVID-19 state outbreaks, many teachers remain anxious about reopening.

Public schools were given several options to reopen, including face-to-face, distance-learning, or a blended model. With face-to-face learning, students will report to campus classrooms with desks spaced 6-feet apart. Distance learning will take place online while a blended method will incorporate both.

Three students walk towards a school building as the sun peaks over the roof.
Photo courtesy of Adrien Olichon

With over 2,500 students, Waipahu High School plans to reopen using the blended model. Students are divided into four groups and will alternate periods each week with Fridays all virtual. Teachers will only see students face-to-face once every two weeks.

“It’s a challenge,” said Emy Keola, a history teacher at Waipahu. “I know it’s important for kids to be in school, but at the same time, priority is public health. I think a lot of teachers, like myself, are anxious. A lot of us had to learn how to teach virtually on the fly. This summer, a lot of teachers, including myself, took a lot of virtual classes on how to teach virtually.”

Keola has been teaching at Waipahu for 29 years. This is the first time in her career that she has been required to adopt a virtual-teaching method.

When on campus, all students and teachers will be required to wear personal protective equipment throughout the day.

“I do feel safe to return to school next month,” said Waipahu High School student Jerel-Dayne Duque. “I trust in the school and the administration that they will do their best to keep our school clean.”

When the first case of COVID-19 hit the Islands in March, Waipahu switched to 100 percent virtual learning for its last semester.

“I think the hybrid-classroom method is an upgrade. It does help with keeping the student-teacher interaction alive. Virtually I noticed a lot of people, they don’t really talk as much as they did during class. Unlike in-person, if they call someone, they have to answer.”

Two students sit at a table and have a discussion. Photo courtesy of Matthew Henry

During a recent legislative briefing, Superintendent of Hawaii Department of Education Christina Kishimoto referred to the success they have seen with summer school sessions as a reason for deciding to open schools.

Hawaii has seen more success in controlling the number of COVID-19 cases compared to other states. The Aloha State has recorded a total of 1,490 cases since March and averages about 22 cases per day. But as Hawaii loosens restrictions, it has seen a recent surge, setting a new single-day record of 60 cases on July 24.

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Featured image courtesy of Matthew Henry

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