Hawaii Department of Education reveals distance-learning options amid pandemic

·3 min read

Jul. 22—The state Department of Education on Wednesday unveiled a list of about 100 schools offering a distance-learning option for parents uneasy about sending their child to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the department said it will team up with some complex areas where demand is low to provide a distance-learning option, but spots for students will be limited.

Wednesday's late afternoon posting on the met a deadline set by a state Board of Education resolution directing the department to make available a list of schools offering distance learning for the new school year, which starts Aug. 3.

"It's a beginning step in the middle of a crisis, " Board President Catherine Payne said. "I appreciate the schools that are stepping up to help."

Parents who don't see their child's school on the list in many cases can apply for a geographic exception to allow their student to "attend " school with a distance-­learning option outside their district.

DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said most of those who expressed interest in surveys gauging demand for distance learning—an estimated 10 % of the student population—should be accommodated by the offerings unveiled Wednesday.

But Kalani acknowledged that demand could increase if the pandemic continues to worsen under the influence of the highly transmissible delta variant, which has sent COVID-19 cases in Hawaii into triple digits over the last week.

The list of schools and offerings could evolve, she said.

Last month state Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said there would be no full distance-learning options for Hawaii public school students this coming academic year.

"Welcoming back our students to our campuses is the priority for all schools, " Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said in a statement Wednesday. "We look forward to engaging students through in-person learning paired with programs and services of high interest, including after-school programs, athletics, clubs and other extracurricular activities."

At the same time, she said, the department is working closely with state health officials to ensure clear guidance on safety protocols for the upcoming year.

State health officials are updating guidance for the new school year and are expected to discuss the topic during a virtual meeting today with principals and school administrators.

Most of the distance-­learning options available this year will require a "caring /responsible adult " at home entrusted with making sure the schoolwork gets done. The teacher of record will only conduct grading.

Only a few schools will offer instruction by a teacher who is online while also teaching a class full of students.

That synchronous mode of teaching last year was strongly criticized by educators as ineffective.

The DOE said it would partner with some complex areas to offer a distance-­learning option where demand is low or where there are capacity issues.

The complex areas include : Farrington-Kaiser-­Kalani (high school grades only ), Hilo-Waiakea (high school grades only ), Castle-­Kahuku (high school grades only ), Baldwin-­Kekaulike-Maui (high school grades only ), Hana-Lahaina ­luna-Lanai-Molokai (elementary grades only ) and Kailua-­Kalaheo (elementary grades only ).

Officials said families interested in the state-based option will need to work with their child's school principal to discuss eligibility criteria. There are limited seats on a first come, first served basis, and the principal will make a referral to the state for eligible students.

Last week the Board of Education asked the department to develop a plan to offer remote learning to students at the state and complex-area levels rather than on a school-by-school basis.

The resolution asked for the distance-learning plan by July 29.

"In the future we're going to have to consider making distance-learning a regular part of our offerings, " Payne said.

She added that last year's school experience revealed that some students excel in and prefer the online model.

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