Hawaiʻi Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi reassured the public that school was back in session and the district is committed to in-person learning amid a third surge in COVID-19 cases brought about by the Omicron variant.
Students returned to the classroom on Tuesday, Jan. 4 following winter break. During a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 5, Hayashi said approximately 1,600 teachers called out sick, statewide, 800 of them were impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, 400 requests for a substitute teacher were unable to be filled due to staffing shortages.
However, Hayashi said complex superintendents are able to keep schools open as teachers and support staff continue to practice key safety strategies including staying when sick, consistent mask-wearing and handwashing.
Parents do have the option of distance learning, however, Hayashi said those programs are limited and requests were made during the first quarter.
“We are definitely prioritizing in-person learning,” he said.
Additional safety measures include encouraging students to get vaccinated and receive the COVID booster shot.
Questions were raised about mandatory testing at schools. Hayashi said 168 schools statewide currently operate as testing sites for their school community.
“Each school community is different,” Hayashi said. “It’s (testing) is a voluntary option right now.”
Hayashi said schools do have a supply of personal protective equipment available to them based on the guidance from the Department of health.
“Students have been coming to school with masks, if they forget, there are masks available to them,” he said.
At this point, HIDOE doesn’t have a threshold on when they would decide to close a classroom or school. Hayashi said schools have to be flexible to address the issues within their schools.
“In COVID and Delta we didn’t identify a particular threshold,” he said. “Our commitment is to keep schools open. There’s no magic number because we need to treat each case individually.”
Hayashi reiterated his gratitude for the complex superintendents, teachers and support staff and parents.
Teachers and administrators are innovative in keeping the classrooms open, he added.