BOE directs schools to offer distance learning options
Board says teachers, students should not have to endure simultaneous online, in-person instruction
News Release from HSTA, July 16, 2021
With a little more than two weeks before students begin the fall semester, the Hawaii Board of Education Thursday directed public school officials to formulate a distance learning plan that board members pledged would not require educators to teach students online and in-person at the same time.
The details about whether and how to provide virtual options to students whose families are still leery about sending their children back to classrooms have been left to individual schools and principals, with little guidance at the state or complex area levels. So board members asked the HIDOE to come up with solutions before students start school on Aug. 3. Teachers return to classrooms July 28.
BOE Chair Catherine Payne said, “I do apologize that we are at this point so close to the opening of school when we are still trying to get some clarification on this.”
“It is vital to us that we offer options to families so that we don’t lose our students from our public school system that we’re continuing to be able to provide for them which I do believe is our obligation,” Payne said.
The state’s 15 complex areas can temporarily deploy staff, such as assigning one teacher to virtually teach students grouped from several smaller schools within the same complex, Payne said, echoing the suggestions made by Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr., two weeks ago.
Tui told the BOE Thursday, “Parents are in a terrible dilemma deciding between the safety and the education of their unvaccinated children.”
“Efforts should have been made months ago to take the burden off of schools to solve these problems in isolation,” Tui said.
“If they (families) pull their children out, schools will see an even further reduction in their operating budgets and lose personnel after the school year has begun,” Tui added. “If students are reallocated within the system, funds for those students would also be reallocated per the weighted student formula.”
While Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has repeatedly advocated about the need to return to full in-person instruction by the new school year and some principals have told families there will be no distance learning at their schools, parents, HSTA and other education advocates have increasingly called for online learning options.
Bryan Costa’s daughter is about to enter the third grade at Kaimiloa Elementary in Ewa. She has type-1 diabetes, he said.
Costa told board members he contacted his daughter’s principal and complex area superintendent and was “severely disappointed to see that they were expecting my child to be in school yet the CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says my daughter is at high risk.”
“I was also offered an online course that was basically software with no teacher involvement, no teacher oversight and was devastated when I was informed that they tried this system last year and there was a 90-percent failure rate,” last school year, Costa said.
HIDOE to unveil distance learning plans Wednesday, less than 2 weeks before students are scheduled to return to classrooms
A BOE resolution directing the HIDOE to assemble a distance learning plan by July 29 passed unanimously Thursday during the special board meeting about the 2021-22 school year. In addition, the resolution requires that the department maintain a list of schools that plan to offer distance learning.
Kishimoto said the HIDOE would post the information online by next Wednesday, July 21, along with contact information for families who want to switch their children to different schools through a geographic exemption, known as a GE.
“Each complex has a distance learning plan and those plans are based on school principal input to the complex area and had to be approved by the complex area superintendent,” Kishimoto told the BOE.
“The good news is that the demand is low so that allows us to stretch our capacity to that demand,” Kishimoto said, telling board members only one to two percent of families polled in complex areas are seeking full virtual learning option, with just one complex area reaching higher distance learning interest of five percent.
“We are working with families to do this,” Kishimoto said.
“Every time we assign a teacher to provide a distance option, that removes a teacher from in-person classroom opportunities. We certainly are not looking to increase the number of students in classes, and so it’s a careful balancing act of how we can stretch the capacity that we have,” Kishimoto said, adding, “We have a fixed number of teachers that we’re working with.”
Payne, the BOE chair, told her colleagues, “The real concern that continues to be an issue is the lack of clarity that seems to be out there among schools and school staff, and certainly with board members and families that are contacting board members.”
Payne noted that the education department is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government that can be used for measures to keep schools operating during the COVID-19 outbreak.
BOE says no more ‘Zoom and room’ simultaneous instruction
Board members clarified that their resolution does not direct teachers to simultaneously teach kids online as well as in-person, which made it hard for students to learn and difficult for teachers to teach to the best of their abilities. Numerous educators from across the state decried the dreaded “Zoom and room” approach during the BOE meeting, saying it was overwhelming and didn’t serve students’ needs.
Rebecca Hadley-Schlosser, a special education teacher at Nanaikapono Elementary on Oahu’s Leeward coast, told the BOE, “Having to teach students in two different formats simultaneously was hard. It took almost twice as long to get through a lesson than if I had only one modality to teach.”
“I felt like I was running a race with no end in sight,” she said.
Nathan Reyes Oda, a special education teacher at Ewa Makai Middle, testified about the devoted teacher of his special education child who was burdened by simultaneous instruction last school year.
“He was a younger man from the mainland and loved Hawaii and with every intention of making this place his home. He loved the kids in the class,” Reyes Oda said.
When special education students were allowed back on campus during the pandemic, he told the BOE meeting, “This guy had kids in class and online in five different grade levels, ages five to nine. A non-verbal kid who was in a wheelchair and diaper, various kids with ADHD and autism. This is a nightmare. Nobody should be learning like this.”
“He quit and moved back to the mainland. He’s still a teacher. We lost a good one,” Reyes Oda said.
“We already have a teacher shortage crisis. Forcing teachers to teach both in-person and online causes more than just job dissatisfaction. It causes good teachers to quit,” he concluded.
Tai Baird, a special education teacher at Lihikai Elementary School on Maui, said much of last school year was a disaster, and she urged the board to push for only one mode of instruction for teachers.
“Please do not create this nightmare for us again,” she said. “Too many of our teachers have retired, resigned, left the island due to the multiple tasking of instruction.”
Payne, the BOE chair, responded to teachers’ concerns and said, “The board has heard very clearly and observed for ourselves over the past year how challenging it was for teachers to do both in-person and online instruction simultaneously.”
BOE member Bruce Voss, whose wife is a public school teacher, agreed.
Simultaneous instruction “just creates an undue burden on teachers, takes time and attention from students in the classroom and dilutes in-classroom learning.”
Families who want their children to engage in distance learning may still have access to a fully virtual program purchased by the HIDOE from a private company called Stride K12 if their school offers that option. But it’s mostly self-directed, without a Hawaii-based teacher monitoring them, offering feedback or answering questions.
The HIDOE spent $1.2 million to purchase 5,000 K12/Stride licenses for the period running from June 3 through May 31, 2022, Honolulu Civil Beat reported. The program’s content has been approved by HIDOE curriculum specialists for grades K-8.
Stride replaces Acellus, an online curriculum HIDOE discontinued after numerous complaints about its inappropriate, offensive and outdated content.
Voss, the BOE member said, “The request for distance learning at the complex or state level is not just for a sterile program like the Acellus disaster last year. It suggests or wants an actual teacher to provide feedback to those students.”
Superintendent outlines distance learning expectations
As schools are interacting with families that want distance learning, Kishimoto said the state has clarified expectations. First, the student has to be able to be successful in distance learning, giving the principal the final say in making that determination. HIDOE has set up a system so that parents have to agree to distance learning expectations for students, including attending regularly, completing their work, etc.
Second, a student who opts for distance learning has to be able to receive their wraparound services, such as mandated special education and language services, Kishimoto said.
‘We are committed to providing distance learning. We are also committed to not overwhelming teachers in the classroom by increasing students in order to pull out teachers for distance learning, so we have that fixed capacity,” Kishimoto said.
Families that have a medical reason for a child to not attend school have various options, including home hospital placement, 504 (the law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance) protections and a 504 plan for home-based learning, she added.
Within complex areas, schools which have extra distance learning capacity are able to accept some geographic exceptions, Kishimoto said.
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Distance learning for fall term is ‘legitimate concern,’ superintendent says
She says allowing some students to continue learning from home is a ‘capacity challenge’
News Release from HSTA, July 14, 2021
For every teacher the state dedicates to distance learning when students return to class in August, it would need to pull a teacher out of the classroom, state Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Tuesday.
Kishimoto, who is departing as superintendent at the end of the month, answered questions live on Hawaii Public Radio’s The Conversation program, which also featured portions of an interview with Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr., who raised concerns about a lack of distance learning options for families when most students return to school on Aug. 3.
Tui said, “Without access to vaccinations, there are a lot of parents who are rightfully concerned about possible spread of the virus to their children. And right now, there’s no state setup option for those parents to give their children a distance learning option.
“Last year, the DOE surveyed all parents and said, ‘OK, which of you want to keep your kids home and which don’t?’ They didn’t make an effort to do that this summer and so schools are left scrambling. I’ve talked to principals who see me and they ask me, ‘So what’s the plan?’ And I really don’t have any answer to that,” Tui added.
Kishimoto responded by saying that Tui’s “concern is a legitimate concern raised by others as well. Many of our parents have been asking for our schools to reopen and to normalize schedules to the greatest degree possible and to have students back with their peers and with teachers and with principals and other staff members.”
It’s a concern also raised by Kishimoto’s boss, Board of Education Chair Catherine Payne, who wrote in a memo that she wants the board to “direct the superintendent to consider the feasibility of offering distance learning at the state or complex-area levels.”
The board will discuss several school reopening issues at a special meeting, Thursday, July 15, at 9 a.m.
“We are going to have some families that are not comfortable yet. By virtue of this being a health pandemic, we should expect that,” Kishimoto told Hawaii Public Radio Tuesday.
Kishimoto said each of the 15 complex areas across the state have been ”planning for and examining their capacity to offer distance learning options by school and by complex area. Those are options that each parent should be reaching out to their own school to see what’s available.”
“We do not have an increase in the number of teacher positions as we go into next school year which means that in order to open up all classrooms, there is not an extra set of teachers to then work via distance learning. And so capacity-wise, we need greater capacity to be able to offer that,” Kishimoto added.
HIDOE has entered into a contract with a publicly traded company called Stride K12, Kishimoto said, “an online program where we can offer some limited opportunities for those parents who want to opt for a longer period of time out of school and learning via technology. The caution I have around that is to make sure your child can be successful via that learning approach because we know many students did struggle with that and especially if you don’t have a teacher that is directly teaching that distance learning class.”
“It’s a capacity challenge for us, and it’s one that we’re working through,” she said.
“Even with a quality online curriculum, we still need to have teachers involved with grading, checking in with students, ensuring that they are progressing appropriately, that they are doing the full scope. We don’t want students losing more instructional time this year,” Kishimoto said.
Asked by HPR Host Catherine Cruz why HIDOE didn’t survey parents about their in-person or distance learning preference this summer, Kishimoto responded, “We’re doing it by school. Principals are collecting information by school to know what their community needs. We are maximizing a diversity of options.
“That’s a school-based conversation as opposed to using some broad survey,” Kishimoto added. “It’s not about continuously doing surveys, but it’s getting down to the individual family information which is held at the school level.”
HSTA’s Tui also raised concerns about the difficulties of simultaneous classroom and remote instruction.
“Our teachers have been so creative this past year, and a lot of them have found that they can do excellent lessons in distance learning. But the hard part is when you have distance learning and classroom teaching at the same time. It’s really difficult to handle when it’s happening simultaneously. So we don’t want that to happen,” Tui said on the HPR program.
Tui advocated for Hawaii-based teachers in different complexes throughout the state to coordinate distance learning.
In response, Kishimoto said, “He’s speaking to the possibility of having some teachers dedicated to distance learning. Again, for every teacher we dedicate to distance learning, we’re pulling a teacher out of the classroom.”
“We have the same FTEs (full-time equivalent teaching positions) to work with. If we were shifting to distance learning, that would mean teachers in the classrooms would have to agree that they would have a larger class size,” she said, even though some classes would actually shrink in size with more students taking the distance learning option.
“To be able to fully reopen, we really need to protect as many teacher FTEs, or full-time equivalents, in the classroom to address students in person, which is going to limit our ability to do blended or full-distance learning,” Kishimoto added.
“It is difficult to have the same kind of quality of learning if you don’t have a teacher leading it online. We’ll have to provide some of those opportunities without a teacher teaching each lesson online, which means that parents will have to agree that students will be learning in a more self-paced way, using technology with periodic check-ins by teachers,” Kishimoto said.
When most public school students throughout the state return to classrooms on Aug 3, they will still be required to wear masks, Kishimoto and Gov. David Ige said, in spite of guidance released Friday by federal health officials that said students and school staff who’ve been vaccinated could take off masks inside school buildings.
Summer school numbers, Kishimoto’s legacy and future plans
Kishimoto said this year, the state had “the largest summer school that we’ve ever offered, and because of federal relief funds, we were able to offer that at no-cost.”
More than 25,000 students in more than 220 schools attended summer school this year, she said.
Kishimoto decided not to reapply for the superintendent’s job after her current term expires on July 30. The BOE has hired Waipahu High Principal Keith Hayashi as interim superintendent while a search begins for a permanent superintendent.
Asked about her proudest accomplishments during her time as superintendent, Kishimoto first spoke about “interesting innovations around academy designs, increased opportunities for students to work part of their instructional time in the field with businesses and having applied learning opportunities.”
“We adopted new computer science standards and started out that rollout of curriculum” in upper grades, she said, but that work should continue in the elementary school levels.
The department also gave out about $500,000 in innovation grants to educators, where Kishimoto said “teachers are innovating using their own teacher team ideas and that’s something I’d like to see continue.”
HIDOE also modernized its email and financial management systems during her tenure, she said.
“We also were able to win a $15 million national competitive grant for literacy, and I’m very proud of that and the work that’s happening around improving literacy approaches and math approaches in our systems.”
“We’ve provided some foundations for improvement and innovation that can be built upon,” Kishimoto added.
She plans to start her own company called Voice for Equity, with a soft-launch of that in the next few weeks.
“I am going to keep doing my equity work and my empowerment work, particularly focused on women leaders and empowerment,” she said.
“I encourage folks to follow me on Voice for Equity on my Twitter handle and will be launching a website that speaks to some of the both national and local work that I will be doing around preparing women as policy leaders and to get to those hard equity issues that we need to get to,” Kishimoto added.
The Journal, a publication that covers K–12 education technology, reported last week that Kishimoto will also head a new leadership academy for women school superintendents offered by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents.
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Superintendent, gov: Mask mandate will remain in school buildings, for now
Feds recommending teachers, students who’ve been vaccinated can go without masks
News Release from HSTA, July 13, 2021
When most public school students throughout the state return to classrooms on Aug. 3, they will still be required to wear masks, state Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Tuesday.
Speaking during a live interview with Hawaii Public Radio’s The Conversation program, Kishimoto said, “We are staying very focused on transitioning to the full reopening with three major health strategies still in place. Masking is one of them when you are on DOE property. The other is hand washing and the other is making sure that we are staying home when ill. If you’re feeling ill, stay home and take that precaution.
“We are being careful as we reopen to watch to make sure that we continue to watch what’s happening on the national front, but also watching what’s happening here in terms of our own COVID positivity cases,” Kishimoto added.
“We are very focused on ensuring that we have a majority of our population vaccinated amongst our educators,” she said.
Somewhere between 54 and 56 percent of Hawaii’s public school student population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Kishimoto said, adding that the figure is probably higher than that.
The state held vaccination clinics at more than 100 schools since May and those school shot clinics will continue, she added.
The superintendent said approximately 80 percent of our teachers are vaccinated, and about 50 percent of school staff had been vaccinated through Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) clinics. A February survey of Hawaii State Teachers Association members showed that more than 70 percent of the more than 11,000 members who responded to the survey had been fully vaccinated, or were scheduled for a first or second shot.
“The more vaccinated students and adults we have, the safer it will be for everyone, including our students who are under the age of 12 who are not going to be vaccinated at this time,” Kishimoto said, referring to younger children who are not able to get the vaccines yet.
On Monday, Gov. David Ige committed to maintaining the mask mandate in public schools, including high schools where students have been eligible to receive the vaccine since the spring.
“The Department of Health really believes wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the spread of COVID,” said Ige in emailed responses to questions from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “So the mask mandate will remain part of the mitigation policies and procedures for our schools for the time being, and will be adjusted as the situation changes.”
Ige didn’t say how long he expects schools to require masks, but told the newspaper “vaccination numbers, COVID case counts and science” will factor into the decision.
Guidelines released Friday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest fully vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks in the classroom.
The HIDOE said Friday it’s counting on the state Department of Health (DOH) for recommendations.
Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble told KHON2 on Friday, “I think it’s gonna be a real challenge for schools to say you’re going to wear a mask, you’re not. So schools are going to need to think that through.”
With children under 12 years old still not eligible for vaccination, Kemble said it is important to keep the younger children protected and to be able to follow rules that can be enforced.
“My sense is for most settings, it’s going to be most practical to stick to indoor masking and outdoor masking only in situations where you were going to have prolonged close contact with others or very crowded settings,” Kemble said on KHON2.
On Friday, HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr. said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how the CDC guidelines would be implemented.
“For instance, if teachers and students who’ve been vaccinated no longer have to wear masks inside school buildings, how will school personnel verify day-to-day who can go without a mask?” Tui asked.
“Given these unanswered questions, it’s in the best interest of everyone to wear masks when they are indoors until we reach herd immunity,” said Tui, who began a three-year term as HSTA president on July 5.
“The HSTA believes it’s important for all school personnel to have sufficient access to personal protective equipment, proper ventilation, and cleaning supplies so that classrooms and school facilities are as safe as possible,” Tui added.
Ige is holding strong to his target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of Hawaii residents before dropping the majority of the state’s COVID-related safety restrictions, including indoor mask mandates.
Ige plans to extend his emergency proclamation suspending various laws and mandating safety protocols, which is set to expire Aug. 6. He also said he will maintain the state’s indoor mask mandate, despite guidance issued a month ago by the CDC that said vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in the vast majority of settings.
“We believe 70 percent is a good target for us,” Ige told the Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii on Monday. “We are making good progress.”
The delta variant, which studies have shown to be more contagious and could cause more serious illness, has concerned top health officials who say that as it takes hold, Hawaii could see an uptick in COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated. Ige said he doesn’t want to have to reverse the state’s reopening if cases do spike.
“I know that once we move forward, I don’t want to be in a position to have to step back,” he told the newspaper. “So I’m committed to maintaining the mask mandate for now as we see continued circulation of the virus in our community.”
Ige said that the pace of vaccinations “has slowed a little,” but he expects the state could reach the 70-percent threshold in early September.
Currently, 58.6 percent of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated. But the pace of vaccinations has fallen 75 percent since early May, according to state DOH figures, and other state officials have said reaching 70 percent could be difficult. The country isn’t expected to reach that target, based on current trends, until sometime next year.