The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) recently announced a goal to increase in-person instruction at elementary schools during the fourth quarter (March 22-May 28). The overall aim is to safely maximize in-person learning opportunities for elementary students for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
Because campuses are in various stages of reopening, timing will vary by school. Under the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state Department of Health (DOH) for in-person learning, each school will assess its capacity to adhere to the guidance while conducting various student services such as student transportation, breakfast and lunch provisions, after-school programming, etc. School leaders are committed to ramping up in-person learning safely.
According to CDC and DOH, when community transmission of COVID-19 is low or moderate and schools are extra attentive with all other mitigation strategies, physical distancing of 6 feet can be safely modified in school settings. Health officials emphasized all other mitigation strategies must be enforced including universal and proper mask usage, hand-washing, cohorting, cleaning of facilities, and contact tracing protocols.
"We understand that not every school can accomplish 6-foot distancing at all times while bringing classrooms back to full capacity," state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble wrote in a letter to the HIDOE. "We encourage those schools to implement all OTHER mitigation measures to the full extent possible, to provide a layered mitigation approach that will still maximize safety."
The following factors were considered in making this transition:
- There has been an overall downward trend of COVID-19 cases.
- Vaccinations have become more widely available to staff members and the community.
- No transmission of the virus has occurred at a HIDOE facility to date.
- The parameters outlined in the DOH and CDC health policy guidance are in alignment with the thresholds needed to transition to in-person learning.
Individual schools are finalizing plans and communicating directly with families ahead of the upcoming spring break.
As a reminder, individuals who become ill, exhibit COVID-19-like symptoms or have recently been exposed to a positive case should not report to their school or worksite and follow the Return to School/Work Criteria.