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A test for Maui County schools

With so many questions about to be answered, there was always a heady mix of hope and trepidation when arriving for the first day of school.

Will the teacher be nice? Will any friends be in the same class? How much homework is going to be assigned the first day? Grades, clothes, cliques, love interests, activities — it is not only time to find out where you stand, but also where you are headed.

Hawaii’s teachers are scheduled to welcome students back Aug. 4 and there is already plenty of hope and trepidation coursing through the halls of the Hawaii Department of Education. In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, with cases spiking across the nation and on Oahu, everyone from state school leaders to janitors and cafeteria staff are scrambling to figure out how to open safely and effectively.

The DOE has provided schools with three options for teaching students this fall. Full-time face-to-face learning is the preferred model, but principals can also elect to go with blended rotations of distance learning and face-to-face. Worried parents can opt for 100 percent distance learning for their children.

Lindsay Ball, complex area superintendent for Hana, Lahaina, Lanai and Molokai, said principals are working diligently to put together school opening plans, but admits there are many obstacles. The pandemic is a fluid beast with untold numbers of challenges and problems to be solved.

“We have to go with the data we have from our schools and the county, but also the CDC and the governor,” Ball said. “We have all this information coming at us and we try to make appropriate decisions. It’s extremely fluid. We could say one thing this week and we’d be painting ourselves in a corner.”

Socialization is an important component of education. And there is no denying the difficulties students and parents faced while educating at home last school year. Ask any parent how distance learning worked and you’re likely to get an earful.

Weighed against the needs to get kids back in school and parents back to work, are the safety of students, school personnel and family members who could be exposed to the virus.

“The fear is real,” says Maui High Principal Jamie Yap. “I’ve got parents calling me, and teachers are afraid as well.”

Yap says ironing out all the particulars of his school’s health protocols, newly required safety equipment and cleaning and sanitizing has been keeping him up late at night. Maui High is going with Option C, which calls for face-to-face teaching for the most vulnerable students, and a blended rotation of distance learning and in-class instruction for others. Planning has been nonstop. He and his staff expect to have a reopening handbook to provide to parents this week, but anticipate details continuing to evolve.

What a test this year is going be for Maui County schools. No pressure, but the decisions administrators make may prove to be the difference between life and death, between moving a generation forward and seeing it fall behind.

Here’s wishing good health and a great school year to all teachers, students, administrators and support personnel. This is an extremely important exam they are about to take. Let’s hope they ace it.

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