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DOE turning in C grade work

Tuesday’s announcement that most neighbor island public schools would join Oahu in beginning the school year with distance learning came as no surprise.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association had called on the Hawaii State Department of Education to make the move five days earlier. Continued upticks in COVID-19 cases across the state supported the argument that schools were not ready to bring students, teachers and staff back to campuses safely.

Molokai and Hana have the only public schools in the state planning to start the year with forms of in-person learning. We wish those unique communities good health and good luck.

After months of hopeful words and directives to stakeholders to soldier on, the DOE finally admitted what scientists have been saying all along, COVID-19 is a threat that must not be underestimated. As important as face-to-face teacher time, social interactions and giving parents a break are, safety has to come first.

Maui educators and support staff have been navigating a sea of conflicting and changing information while preparing their schools to open. This announcement buys them breathing room, but they are still expected to have students on campus for in-person training on a scheduled basis this coming Monday through Wednesday.

The students will then transition to distance learning for at least the next four weeks. If COVID cases continue to rise, in-person classes could be delayed, perhaps for as long as into next year.

If students do not return to campuses until 2021 or 2022, top DOE officials will have to account for why they didn’t have teachers spend this summer preparing for the inevitable. The brass has consistently focused on schools offering some form of in-person classes.

This focus may turn out to have forced many missed opportunities. Resources spent on things like installing Plexiglass shields could have gone to providing computers and internet access for students in need. Curriculums could have been videotaped and then shown on cable TV channels that were secured over the summer. Teachers could have centered their time developing remote teaching programs and supplemental materials.

There is no second-guessing the hard work of Maui educators and support staff. They are learning how to deal with a global pandemic in real time. The DOE is also learning, but currently turning in C grade work. We’re hopeful that can be brought up to an A+.

A study by University of Richmond assistant professor Bob Spires printed in The Conversation says countries that have success getting kids back to school share many similarities.

Community commitment is critical, Spires writes. Strict mask-wearing and social distancing must not only occur in schools, but in the community at large. People need reliable, up-to-date data. Politicized messaging is counterproductive. Schools that slowly stage reopenings do better than those that rush.

Is our community willing to make the sacrifices necessary for our schools to open and stay open?

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