Gradual Rollout of Blended Learning Expected in 2nd Quarter at Hawai‘i Schools
Governor David Ige joined superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto with the state Department of Education and Dr. Sarah Kemble, Asst. Hawai‘i State Epidemiologist today in announcing updated COVID-19 guidance for Hawai‘i’s schools.
Dr. Kemble said the 28-page guidance is now available to the public today at the health.hawaii.gov website.
With the new health policy guidance in hand, planning and decision-making for the second quarter, which runs from Oct. 12 to Dec. 18, can begin and will be done at the complex area level (groups of high schools and their feeder elementary and middle schools).
The DOH metrics outline five levels of community transmission of COVID-19 that would trigger corresponding learning model parameters for schools to consider and to assist with decision making. HIDOE will use the metrics to look at case activity within counties and by complex area.
“The safety of our students, teachers, staff and leaders remains our highest priority. We appreciate having benchmarks that will allow our schools to move forward safely, strategically and based on sound data from our health experts,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said. “The wide variation we’re seeing in case counts within individual communities means that we cannot adopt a statewide approach for all schools. These triggers provide a benchmark for schools to use in carefully and safely planning for increased on-campus access for students beginning with Quarter 2, as appropriate.”
Dr. Kemble said one of the key differences between what was provided prior to the Fall semester start is the thresholds for reopening. She said a more concrete framework is provided on when schools can transition between learning models. She said there’s also additional detail on mitigation strategies, providing checklists and tools to maintain clean environments, structure classrooms and safe behavior strategies to keep learning safe.
The new COVID-19 guidance is for all schools, not just public schools, according to state officials. “We recognize one size does not fit all, so instead of blanket statewide guidance, we developed a regional approach because disease transmission rates can differ on each island. This empowers school leaders to be responsive in the context of what is happening in their community,” said Dr. Kemble.
“The reopening threshold for schools… is based on a 14-day cumulative case rate–and that’s a rate per 10,000 population. That’s what makes it applicable island by island, rather than giving an absolute case count,” said Dr. Kemble. “And the 14 day period is chosen to give more stability to that measure. If we look at rolling seven day averages–which are of much interest these days to look at what direction the pandemic is heading–those can turn pretty quickly. We wanted a more stable metric to allow the time needed for planning and transitioning that schools will require. And also make sure that steps we are taking are going to make sense for the time frames involved.”
It is important to note this metric is different from the number of cases by county or the number of year-to-date cases by county that are also reported by the health department through daily updates.
For example, Oʻahu, which has a population of 974,563, had a total of 1,937 cases from September 1 to 14. This translates to 19.9 cases per 10,000 for Oʻahu for that 14-day period. Based on the community transmission thresholds, both elementary and secondary schools should consider adopting a blended learning model.
Schools may choose from among three different learning models: learning from home in which students and teachers engage in virtual classes only, traditional in-person learning in the classroom, or a hybrid blended learning model that combines both home learning and in-person classroom learning.
The learning model is based on community transmission levels with different thresholds established for elementary and secondary students. The Department of Health updates this metric every other week and posts this on its website: https://health.hawaii.gov/coronavirusdisease2019/what-you-should-know/current-situation-in-hawaii/
In addition to community transmission levels, schools must also assess their preparedness and capacity to execute mitigation strategies. This includes implementing and enforcing physical distancing, providing face masks and face shields for all student support personnel, establishing cohorts or small groups of students and staff that remain together with limited mixing between groups, planning for students or staff who become sick at school, promoting appropriate hygiene, establishing a cleaning and disinfection schedule for high-touch surfaces, identifying a school COVID-19 program coordinator, limiting non-essential visitors at the school, and a communication plan when there is a positive case in the school.
For planning purposes and to minimize disruption, parents should anticipate the second quarter will begin as a continuation of learning from home, as schools plan for a gradual rollout of blended learning opportunities and continue to monitor COVID case activity in their communities against the DOH metrics. As decisions are made, schools will communicate with families.
Most HIDOE schools have been delivering instruction via distance learning since the start of the school year. The Department extended that mode of instruction from an initial four weeks to the entire first quarter based on conditions at the time. The first quarter ends Oct. 2, followed by a one-week fall break. The second quarter runs through December 18.