The state Board of Education approved a resolution Thursday asking the state superintendent 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.
By doing that, board members said, the district can pool resources, reduce the burden on individual schools and prevent teachers from having to juggle in-school and remote students at the same time.
“It is vital for us to offer options to families, so that we don’t lose students from our public school system,” board Chairwoman Catherine Payne said.
The resolution also encourages teachers, staff and eligible students (12 and older) to become vaccinated, and calls for the department to effectively communicate school safety measures to families and to continue looking to the state Department of Health as the authority for guidance on all COVID-19- related health matters.
The resolution asks for the distance-learning plan to be provided to the board by July 29, which is less than a week before school begins Aug. 3.
But schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the department is already working on plans, and they are expected to be released to the public on the web starting next week.
However, Kishimito cautioned that there will be constraints on the effort, as there is a national mandate for getting kids in classrooms, and the Hawaii school system received no extra funding for distance learning.
“We have a fixed number of teachers we can work with,” she said, adding that every teacher assigned to online work reduces in-class opportunities.
“We are committed to providing distance learning,” she said. But the department is also committed to not overwhelming the teachers in the classroom, she said, by increasing class size due to the online demand.
Kishimoto said each of the state’s 15 complex areas will have an individualized distance learning plan with a variety of options and opportunities. These plans are expected to be online by midweek.
A parent survey regarding online instruction found demand in the 1% to 2% range in most places, with a high in one complex of 5%, she said.
“The good news is the demand is low,” she said, “and so that allows us to stretch our capacity to that demand.”
To participate online, parents and students must agree to strive for academic success and be fully involved. Kishimoto said she gave principals authority to revoke online instruction if a student begins to disappear and is not attending regularly.
“We don’t want them to lose any more instructional time,” the superintendent said.
Educators were hoping to return to full-time, in-class learning for the 2021-2022 school year, especially after a difficult, pandemic- plagued school year that saw, among other things, 1 in 4 seniors struggling to be on track to graduate at one point.
Research has shown that reduced access to in-person learning is linked to poorer learning outcomes and adverse mental health and behavioral effects in children.
Earlier in the year Kishimoto said on-campus learning would be the priority, and no school would be required to offer distance learning.
But the pandemic has lingered, and the delta variant is the latest menace that threatens to take off, leading to calls for continued distance-learning for island schools.
“Parents are in a terrible dilemma deciding between the safety and the education of their unvaccinated children,” said Osa Tui Jr., president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Tui chastised the department for not preparing for greater distance-learning options sooner. “Efforts should have been made months ago to take the burden of these schools in isolation,” he said.
During testimony a number of parents urged the board to make the remote- learning option available for their children.
But some teachers told of their frustrations last year of juggling online and in-class students simultaneously, battling inconsistent connectivity and related obstacles.
“There is not even a single word that would completely encapsulate how difficult it was to be a teacher this past school year,” said Justin Collado, a McKinley High School math teacher.
Tai Baird, a special- education teacher at Lihikai Elementary School on Maui, said much of last school year was a disaster, and she urged the board to push for only one mode of instruction for teachers.
“Please do not create this nightmare for us again,” she said. “Too many of our teachers have retired, resigned, left the island due to the multiple tasking of instruction.”
While some urged the department to continue requiring students to wear masks, Katelyn Shelly, parent of two elementary students, said parents ought to be given the choice as to whether their young children should be required to wear a mask during the school day.
“Masks are harming our children physically, psychologically and behaviorally. Health issues include increased headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness — much of which can be attributed to oxygen deprivation,” Shelly said.