Big Island Schools to Start 2020-21 School Year With Distance Learning

August 11, 2020, 4:27 PM HST (Updated August 12, 2020, 7:27 AM)
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DOE file photo.

All public schools on the Big Island will follow O‘ahu’s lead and begin the first four weeks of the 2020-21 school year with distance learning.

The first day of school remains Aug. 17. The Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area, Kaʻū-Keaʻau-Pāhoa Complex Area and Honokaʻa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area will implement 100% distance learning in an effort to protect students and staff from the potential spread of COVID-19.

“This transition prioritizes the health and safety of our students and staff while ensuring equity of access for high-needs and underprivileged students,” Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area Superintendent Esther Kanehailua said. “Student engagement and family needs during distance learning will be important factors in our decision-making as we move ahead.”

On Aug. 7, Hawai‘i Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto announced in a press conference all school complex areas on O‘ahu would be going to online instruction for the first four weeks of the school year due to concerns over the rising COVID-19 cases on the island.

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As a result, Kishimoto explained last week that all neighbor island complex superintendents were given the opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted to follow suit with O‘ahu schools or continue with the original blended-model plan of in-classroom and distance learning instruction.

During a press conference Tuesday, Kishimoto said, the shift to distance learning will reduce the number of people on campus. Approximately 13,000 teachers will have trained with seven different online learning modules before the first day of school.

“It’s important that children have their opportunity of learning,” Kishimoto said.

Some private schools have already welcomed back students for in-person instruction. Parker School on Aug. 10. Several safety procedures are in place to protect the health of students and staff.

The public schools will continue to provide in-person special education services. Those students will be served on campus.

Additionally, Kishimoto said the schools will have hubs for students who don’t have internet access at home. The district is working on procuring more MIFI hotspots for students.

Kishimoto said complex area superintendents are looking at continuing distance learning throughout the first quarter.  An announcement will be made on Sept. 8 by each complex area superintendent if they decide to continue distance learning.

Students and families are encouraged to utilize the ‘Ohana Help Desk, the nation’s first statewide, comprehensive technology support help desk to assist with distance learning.

Moloka‘i schools and Hāna High & Elementary will continue with the blended model of instruction.

All schools on Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i and Maui County will follow the three-phase plan for distance learning below laid out on Aug. 7 for Oahu schools. The reopening of in-classroom instruction will happen in three phases.

First phase, in-person training (Aug. 17-20)

During the first week of school, students will physically return to campus on a coordinated and scheduled basis, determined by each individual school, to connect with their teacher, receive training on the distance learning platforms, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology. Special considerations will be given to vulnerable students and their families for more in-person access to the school and teachers.

Starting on Aug. 17, School cafeterias will be serving only grab-and-go meals for their enrolled students; in-person dining will not be allowed. After-school programs will be suspended until students return to in-person blended learning models.

Second phase, ready to learn (Aug. 24-Sept. 11)

For the remainder of the four week period, full distance learning will be implemented. Staff will report to their designated work sites for continued distance learning instruction. Special education services that cannot be provided in a distance learning format will be available in person. Supervised in-person learning labs at schools will be available for students who do not have WiFi access.

Third phase, transition to blended learning or continue distance learning (Sept. 14)

HIDOE will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with the Governor’s Office and the Hawai‘i State Department of Health to assess whether or not students can safely return to in-person blended learning models.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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