The Hawai‘i Board of Education will reconvene in a special meeting to address requests to delay the reopening of schools.
Approximately 4,000 Hawai‘i Department of Education employees testified Thursday, explaining campuses are not ready to welcome back students on Aug. 4, the first day of school. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators and staff feel there hasn’t been concise leadership or policies on how to reopen the schools and what to do if a child or employee becomes ill.
“They have much to do to be adequately prepared,” said Kaneohe Elementary School Principal Derek Minakami during public testimony. “With the long list of new tasks to complete, more time will benefit.”
Craig Burger, a pediatrician from Hilo, was the only testifier to express support for the reopening of schools on Aug. 4.
Burger said he treats 5- and 6-year-old children who are getting ready to go into kindergarten. One child can’t read and doesn’t recognize the sounds of the alphabet.
“Where will he be in five years if there’s no one there now,” Burger posed to the board. “We need to get the children back in the schools.”
Hawai‘i State Senator Kurt Cabella, (D–District 19), also testified. He said the same as teachers, parents are concerned about reopening.
“It’s not that I don’t want the schools to open, but I’m listening to teachers and parents, and they’re very scared,” said Fevella, who represents ‘Ewa Beach, Ocean Pointe, ‘Ewa by Gentry, Iroquois Point, and a portion of ‘Ewa Villages. “They’re worried they won’t have the right equipment to take care of the schools.”
BOE member Dwight Takeno suggested opening distancing learning on Aug. 4 and bringing kids back to school on Aug. 18.
DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the district has identified the following priorities for the 2020-21 school year: health and safety, students most vulnerable to school closures and learning, in-person instruction metrics, and student access to devices.
Kishimoto said they have a designated person who works with schools to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE).
“If we get to a point where we have no PPE, that’s a very different conversation about whether or not we shut down,” the superintendent explained.
At this point, the district has passed out hundreds of thousands of PPE and is following up with individual schools regarding adequacy issues.
Board Chairperson Catherine Payne assured testifiers that their testimonies and heart-felt concerns were heard.
“This is truly a fraught time for everyone in our state,” Payne said. “No one anticipated this.”
Payne said she believes most people fall on the side that more preparation is needed, adding she knows everyone has the best interests of students in their hearts.
“We will do all that we can to mitigate the risk in this pandemic,” Payne said.
Payne is working with DOE staff to schedule the emergency meeting to address the reopening of schools, as no decision was reached Thursday.