Return to Learn

The Department is working closely with state and federal agencies to safely reopen campuses for the 2020-21 school year. Please continue to check back here for updates. We will be adding details and information about what staff, parents and students can expect when school reopen in the fall.

Updated Sept. 2, 2020

Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan encompasses seven main areas of work and resources that help guide Department decision-making. Please click below to view guidance, information and the work that’s being done in each area. Please continue to check back here for updates.

Health and Safety
​School Design
​Equity and Access
​Staff Capacity
​Family and Community
​Contingency Planning
Faculty and ​Staff Training
​Memos & Announcements
​ ​

A Message from Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto

Aloha HIDOE students, families, staff, teachers and leaders,

As we move forward in our commitment to reopen schools for the fall semester, we know that the delivery of instruction in Hawaiʻi, the nation and the world, is going to look very different. Our HIDOE ʻohana has been diligently working on plans for the new school year, growing from this experience and applying lessons learned toward our commitment to equity of access and quality education.

The pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to transform equity of access within our public education system by making permanent, innovative improvements to our digital learning approaches to better engage our students, particularly our most vulnerable learners. Recent distance-learning survey data from principals, teachers, students and families indicate a need for greater investment in student and teacher access to devices, access to reliable internet connectivity and support for distance learning. Therefore, we will continue our focus on the modernization of our technology infrastructure to support quality teaching and learning using new modalities, including pushing services and learning into the community through digital learning hubs and teleservices. We will also expand our technical support to families in this changing environment through a new ʻOhana Help Desk, because families are critical partners in our keiki’s success. 

Our reopening framework addresses the Department's plans for safely welcoming our students and teachers back to campus in the fall. We also developed a detailed Principal Handbook for our school leaders that will help guide them on implementing our Return to Learn reopening plan. Our public schools are the central hub within each neighborhood of parental engagement and student success, thus our principals and their school teams will be an important source of information during these changing times.

This is not a static plan. Please continue to check back here for updates. As the situation evolves or as new guidance becomes available, we will need to continually adjust our plans to ensure that we are providing a safe learning and working environment for our HIDOE ʻohana, within the context of our learning organization and mission. Mahalo for your support and dedication to our haumana. By working together, we can deliver on the promise of public education to Hawaii’s students.


Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto



The state of Hawaiʻi is required to plan and prepare for disasters and emergencies that may result from a wide variety of threats and hazards. Established in June 2019, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education's (HIDOE) Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is an all-hazards plan that establishes a single, comprehensive framework for the coordination of authority, responsibility, and support from HIDOE. When directed, we will take the appropriate actions to mobilize and deploy resources to assist in life, safety, and property protection efforts in accordance with the State of Hawaiʻi Emergency Operations Plan (HI-EOP). The Pandemic Contagious Virus Plan, which is currently being updated to reflect changes in national, state and county guidance, provides a comprehensive set of actions HIDOE will take in dealing with any pandemic threat to our schools and offices. Please continue to check back here for the updated Plan. 

Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan is the Department's specific response to the impact of the COVID-19 health pandemic on our schools. It articulates the scope of work required to respond to health and safety issues while implementing the Hawaiʻi State Board of Education's call to action for our school communities to give hope, act with kindness and work toward togetherness in preparing to reopen schools. 

All department personnel are expected to be familiar with the contents of the emergency plans for their office, complex area and school. Staff members tasked with specific duties under this plan must ensure procedures and resources are in place to successfully execute these functions and participate in training and exercises to ensure they have the knowledge and experience to perform their respective roles.  

The plan will continue to evolve, incorporating lessons learned from actual experiences, ongoing planning efforts, training and exercise activities, and senior leader guidance.

Financial Strategy 

Hawaiʻi continues to cope with the escalating fiscal uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including a steep decline in tax revenues that fund the state's budget. This has a significant impact on the Department, whose operations comprise nearly one-quarter of the state's general fund budget.

The Department prioritized 10 areas for COVID mitigation: summer learning, CTE-aligned student internships, devices for learning, connectivity for devices, distance-learning training, and staff differentials; and on the operations side, cleaning, health and safety, and transition safety nets.

Financial support for the implementation of schools' academic and financial plans while responding to the logistical challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic is expected to come from the following:

  • Existing budget appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2020-21 contained in Senate Bill 126, which was passed by the Legislature on June 26, 2020. The funding bill does not include any of the requests for additional funding by the Board of Education, which sought support for projected shortfalls for electricity and Workers' Compensation. In addition, $100.2 million of state funding was reduced for various payroll and non-payroll expenses. As a result, this bill provides less state support for operations compared to the prior fiscal year. The Department has initiated the distribution of first-quarter funding to facilitate continued preparation by schools and offices for the opening of schools for SY 2020-21.
  • Unspent prior-year appropriated funds (carryover). Schools and offices were encouraged to reduce spending in the last quarter of FY 2019-20, which is how the Department anticipates managing the $50 million budget cut to state support contained in Senate Bill 126. Any available balances of state funds remaining at the end of FY 2019-20 will be carried over directly to schools to be used in FY 2020-21, or, in the case of funds that were not allocated to schools, carried over centrally to be used to manage projected program shortfalls. 
  • Reprioritization of available funds. Over the course of FY2020-21 expenditures will be closely monitored and scrutinized to facilitate the reprogramming of limited resources to support high-priority activities. For example, in March 2020 the Department reprioritized and distributed a $300,000 allocation of Department of Defense Supplement to Impact Aid funds to complex areas based on Weighted Student Formula weighted enrollment to be used for COVID response.
  • Assistance from the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA). To the extent possible, the Department will continue to seek the direct provision from HI-EMA of personal protective equipment and health and safety supplies as well as reimbursements for expenditures made for these purposes by schools and offices. The legislature approved $100 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) monies to HI-EMA to provide these supports to state agencies. 
  • New federal grants and donations. The Department will continue to seek additional resources from federal grants and private donations and, to the extent possible, seek to leverage the funds to support school operations.  Examples include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act appropriations for the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which are also known as State and County Assistance funds, and the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund.
  • CARES Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The federal funds appropriated in the CARES Act and awarded directly to the Department are ESSER Funds. This $43.4 million award represents approximately 2% of the Department's annual operating budget. Since awarded on May 14, 2020, these funds have provided a reliable source of support during very fiscally uncertain times, allowing the Department to commit to several strategic and leveraged investments to support schools during the pandemic. For a summary of the approved uses as of June 29, 2020, click here.
  • Potential additional federal COVID response funds. The Department continues to remain cautiously optimistic that in the months ahead as the financial fallout from the pandemic mounts, Congress will authorize additional assistance for a variety of purposes, including support for state governments and school districts, in particular.

Core Assumptions for Reopening Schools

The Core Assumptions for Reopening Schools shall serve as the guiding principles to support decision-making throughout the HIDOE tri-level structure as schools, complex areas, and state offices navigate the changing circumstances in Hawaiʻi and collective impacts on our public school system.

  1. The core operations of public education and school models must be adjusted according to the impact level of the public health emergency identified for the community. Impact levels may vary by county. The matrix below displays the five levels of impact as described by the Governor's Reopening Hawaiʻi Plan and the potential changes in the HIDOE's operations in opening schools.
​Stay at Home
(Major Disruption)
​Safer at Home 
(Moderate Disruption)
Act with Care
(Minor Disruption)
(Minimal Disruption)
​New Normal
(No Disruption)
​Online distance learning and instructional packets
​Distance learning will continue.

Face-to-face instruction is provided in compliance with CDC and DOH guidelines for vulnerable learners for whom online learning is not appropriate.
Distance learning will continue.

Face-to-face instruction is provided in compliance with CDC and DOH guidelines for vulnerable learners and early grade levels (K-2; SPED PreK). 

Based on an evaluation of operations, personnel, and facilities, face-to-face instruction may include additional groups of students.

​Face-to-face instruction in compliance with CDC and DOH guidelines is allowable for all students.

Blended learning and distance learning may be used to reduce the number of students on campus to enable social distancing. 
​All students are allowed back on campus.

HIDOE will continue to monitor the public health situation for any changes. 

  1. School year 2020-21 will include 180 instructional days with an array of delivery instructional models that are developmentally appropriate to the needs of learners, adhere to the health and safety guidelines, and consider the unique conditions of the community regarding the impact of COVID-19. 

  2. Target start dates:

      • Teachers – July 29, 2020
      • Students – August 17, 2020

    Delivery of instruction:       

      • In-class
      • Blended learning
      • Virtual/online

    Pursuant to the BOE resolution adopted on June 18, 2020: "BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board decrees that the Department may consider distance learning and hybrid learning equivalent to in-person learning for purposes of calculating instructional days and student hours and meeting the requirements of Section 302A-251, HRS, provided that the Department issues clear directives to schools and guidance to families and the public regarding how Department schools must calculate instructional days and student hours in distance learning and hybrid learning settings…"

  3. School models will reflect a culture of care that is consistent with the BOE principles of giving hope, acting with kindness, and working toward togetherness. Thus, school models will demonstrate:

    • Adherence to the health and sanitation directives to ensure the health and safety of our students, employees, families, and community members. 
    • Priority for students who have challenges with online learning or need additional support to be successful academically for on-campus learning. 
    • Flexibility as schools address facilities and workforce capacity and health and safety guidelines to provide supervision and optimal learning conditions for their most vulnerable students. Models will be designed to align within a complex area to support families with learners in multiple schools to the greatest extent possible.
  4. Accommodations, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), will be provided for teachers, administrators, school staff and students who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to their age or other health conditions.


Deep appreciation is extended to the tri-level HIDOE leadership team and countless staff members who contributed to the development of this plan. Mahalo to Bill Arakaki, Heidi Armstrong, Lindsay Ball, Alisa Bender, Brook Conner, Cynthia Covell, Robert Davis, Linell Dilwith, Kathleen Dimino, John Erickson, Chad Farias, Brian Hallett, Lanelle Hibbs, Matt Ho, Keith Hui, Esther Kanehailua, Yvonne Lau, Rodney Luke, Ann Mahi, Rochelle Mahoe, Deborah Nekomoto, Janette Snelling, Art Souza, Sean Tajima, Randall Tanaka, Sione Thompson and Paul Zina.

HIDOE's reopening framework was developed in consultation with the Hawai'i Board of Education (BOE) Reopening Schools Parent Feedback Committee, an ad hoc committee of 15 parents and grandparents. The committee, which was led by BOE Member Maggie Cox and supported by BOE Chairwoman Catherine Payne, contributed diverse feedback and perspective that was critical to ensure that needs and concerns from the entire school community were heard and addressed. 

Mahalo to Andrea Alexander, Ryan Arakawa, Karen Arakawa, Katie Bojakowski, Ember Freitas, Mildred Hetrick, An’Gelle Kaeo, Maile Kaʻopua, Sharlene Murata, Bruce Nakamura, Neal Okamoto, Wyomie Pilor, Mark Segawa, Lyndee Sprenger, and Kelli Taylor.

The collaborative work of public education stakeholders, both internal and external, is so vital to ensuring student success, especially during these unprecedented times. Thank you for your commitment and dedication toward strengthening our Hawaiʻi public school system.

Mahalo to Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami for serving as master facilitator of this leadership collaborative. 

2030 Promise Plan community feedback


Ho‘oha‘aheo newsletter cover

The Department's primary publication featuring successes across our public schools.

View all Ho‘oha‘aheo Newsletters