A picture of public education in the COVID-19 era has developed as part of an agreement reached over the weekend, which will allow in-person instruction to resume in Fall 2020.
The Department of Education and the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding Saturday, agreeing to a set of circumstances under which public schools across the islands will operate when the upcoming year begins. The traditional classroom paradigm has not been used in Hawai‘i public schools since before Spring Break in March due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
HSTA said negotiations with the DOE resulted in the inclusion of nearly all educator suggestions on how to keep safe staff and students alike while maintaining an environment in which learning can occur.
COVID-19 response meetings will be held monthly to discuss progress and any adjustments needed to elements of the agreement, including established procedures to screen all who visit the campus, how to limit access to anyone showing symptoms of the virus, and how to employ physical and social distancing inside the classroom.
Hand sanitizing stations will be set up across each campus. Standard social distancing policies of six feet or more between students and faculty will be employed. Classroom sizes will be limited “when possible,” as will be the “mixing of groups,” according to the memorandum.
Large spaces not traditionally used as classrooms, such as gyms and computer labs, will be utilized as additional learning spaces. Outdoor instruction may also occur depending on weather conditions.
The document notes that all “employees, students, and campus visitors should wear face coverings that cover the mouth and nose,” with the exception of those who suffer from respiratory ailments that make wearing face masks more difficult and dangerous. However, the document does not say face coverings must be worn.
More and more consensus has developed within the scientific community that widespread wearing of face coverings is the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when large numbers of people congregate in public.
Teachers will also be allowed to use face shields, which allow younger students to see their faces and help to avoid learning barriers involving phonological instruction.
Educators at higher risk of infection will be provided additional personal protection equipment (PPE), which might include a surgical mask, face shield, and gloves at no extra personal cost. Teachers may get approval to purchase PPE for themselves and/or their students in the case of shortages, for which they will be fully reimbursed, the memorandum said.
Disinfection and sanitization will take place in heavily used areas and on frequently touched surfaces “at least once per day.” Adequate cleaning supplies will be provided for every room on campus, according to the agreement.
Doors and windows will also be opened as often and for as long as possible, weather conditions permitting.
The first nine days of the return to in-person instruction at Hawai‘i public schools will consist of half days complete with meal service. Staff will use the half days to make initial adjustments to standard protocol and best practices.
Possible instructional models will include face-to-face instruction, blended rotation instruction that could include a two-day rotational format employed at middle schools and high schools, or a hybrid of the two.
To review the full memorandum, click the following link: Reopening.