The Hawai‘i Board of Education voted Thursday to delay the start of school until Aug. 17 days before classes were scheduled to begin this Tuesday.
The board passed the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s request for the delay with a 8-1 vote. Board member Bruce Voss was the lone “no” vote.
The two-week extension will provide teachers and administrators additional training in distance learning, health and safety protocols as they enter the school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands of teachers and parents statewide have come forward expressing frustration and concern that campuses are not ready for the safe return of students due to COVID-19. People called into Thursday’s meeting, which was held virtually, throughout the state to testify regarding their concerns with delay.
James Campbell High School social studies teacher Karly Kaneshiro said there has not been enough planning and training regarding health and safety protocols. She also expressed concern regarding what training would be accomplished during those additional two weeks.
Jen Lum, Pearl City High School teacher, said she’s lost faith in the superintendent and the Department of Health.
“I don’t want the return to schools based on feelings — I want it based on facts,” Lum said.
Lum suggested a task force be created to investigate how to accomplish health and safety in the schools, led by Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
One Big Island parent disagreed with the delay, noting his school leaders were ready to start on Aug. 4.
“I wish we wouldn’t make a blanket statement and let individual schools make their own decisions,” the parent said.
Board member Maggie Cox said this change in the calendar is exactly what principals have asked for to help get ready for school.
“I think that there are all kinds of planning that are going to take place,” Cox said. “A lot of those questions brought up (by teachers and parents) will be addressed in those extra days.”
Voss expressed concern about how the loss of the instructional days will impact high-risk students and how schools could possibly help them.
“This change is a bad deal for students,” the board member stated. “It’s not clear how students will benefit.”
Voss said he thinks each school should decide when to return to in-person instruction, noting some schools feel they are ready, while others feel they need more time.
HIDOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she knows this decision to open schools on time or to delay is difficult. There are parents and teachers who’ve voiced support and opposition to the postponement of in-person instruction.
“There are impacts to this change to the calendar,” Kishimoto said. “Because of the way the calendar would begin, the time period between Aug. 4 to Aug. 14 is a challenge for teachers to provide ESY (Extended School Year) services.”
The additional training dates will be conducted online and face-to-face with physical distancing. Substitutes will be able to continue training online.
“With nine additional personal days we know we’re going to need to continue to keep track of clarity and training,” the superintendent said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March. As a result, the final quarter of school was moved to distance learning. The coming school year is described to be a blended model, which will provide a mix of distance learning and in-person instruction.