Hawaii has been cautious through every step of the pandemic, and the state is now seeing the dividends of that prudence. One of those perks, a big one, is that educators, health officials, and union leaders have been able to reach an accord on the return to classroom teaching. On March 15, 2021, they announced that agreements have been reached on allowing more young students back to in-person learning, very soon.
“Our goal collectively is to have over 50% of our elementary students in-person during Quarter 4, with all students who want to be in-person to be minimally coming on campus on a rotating basis,” said Superintendent Christina Kishimoto on Monday afternoon.
In December, only 12 percent of Hawaii’s students were in classrooms full-time. The percentage has risen slightly since then, but not quickly. Educators, childhood development experts, and disaster experts all agree that in-person learning is important. For many students, even with remote learning, 2020 was an entirely lost year in their education.
Safety is of course the primary concern, but Hawaiian authorities believe they have that locked down, too.
“The CDC visited several of our schools and verified that we have really good mitigation strategies,” said Kishimoto. Those strategies include rigorous masking, distancing, and sick day protocols, and hand-hygiene practices borrowed from hospitals – any time you pass from one room to another, clean your hands. And they have another advantage, too.
“The vast majority of our teachers will have been vaccinated and gone through the entire protocol,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “We have seen low cases (of coronavirus), in fact, Hawaii has per capita one of the lowest rates in the entire country.”
Over the next several weeks, each school will be allowed to move at its own pace in bringing students back, working up towards that 50 percent level as localized needs allow.
“The next school year is where we are hoping to have everyone back on campus who wants to be on campus,” Kishimoto added.
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