Hawaii looks to mainland teachers to end distance learning backlog


The Hawaii Department of Education is recruiting mainland teachers to facilitate its statewide distance learning program, which is helping to delay the withdrawal of more students from a long waiting list.

Teri Ushijima, acting deputy superintendent in the office of curriculum design and education, told the Board of Education that at least 245 children are still waiting to enroll in the distance program.

“We are doing our best to hire teachers as soon as we can and to open seats as quickly as possible,” she said at a board meeting on Thursday. “A lot of our teachers have been hired out of state, so a lot can move out in a week or two. “

The first day of the new school year was August 3. Three weeks later, the acting superintendent took stock. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

But she stressed that teachers cannot start working until they get to the islands despite calls to let them start distance education.

So far, 2,315 students, or about 1.4% of all students, are enrolled in the statewide plan, which does not include those enrolled in separate school options, a she declared.

The state Department of Education has insisted that most children should resume full in-person learning this year after more than a year of mostly virtual learning, as schools have struggled to s ‘adapt to the pandemic.

The DOE has a limited number of places for children to participate in distance learning for health reasons, but the plans were rolled out just days before the start of the new school year on August 3 and the managers always strive to meet demand.

During Thursday’s meeting, Education Council member Kaimana Barcarse asked why the DOE couldn’t change its policy or guidelines to allow recruits on the continent to start immediately from their place of residence. current instead of waiting for them to move.

“It seems to me that especially during a pandemic and the economic crisis we find ourselves in, this possible modification (the rule of the continent) would create more opportunities for our students to obtain highly qualified distance learning,” said declared Barcarse.

Relocation requirements

Sean Bacon, acting deputy superintendent in the office of talent management, responded that current DOE guidelines require “that all telecommuting employees be in the state of Hawaii.”

“We will be setting up a committee to review the current guidelines and whether we need to make any changes,” he said, adding that factors such as workers’ compensation and residency tax requirements are part. of the equation.

He also said the department was hiring teachers from the mainland to allow instructors already in Hawaii to focus on their in-person lessons and to avoid “placing additional strain on schools at this time.”

DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said on Wednesday that the department had so far hired 18 remote teachers and was looking to hire five to seven more. On Thursday evening, she said she was not immediately sure how many of those new hires were from the mainland.

“The signs are that the pandemic is not going to end. In-person learning cannot stop. – Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi

Towards the end of last year, many teachers had to run courses online and on campus simultaneously due to a hybrid system that gave parents the choice of keeping their children in school.

Now, with the full return of students to campuses, many teachers are saying their classrooms are overflowing with students and they are unable to maintain Covid distancing requirements, contributing to security concerns.

Responding to concerns about the spike in Covid cases due to the highly contagious delta variant, Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the DOE will address possible outbreaks on campuses as they arise, in conjunction with advice from officials of the state health ministry.

“These are the medical experts and we will defer to them to review any of these decisions if they were to occur,” said Hayashi, who took over as director of the DOE from former Superintendent Christina Kishimoto on Aug. 1.

With Friday being a public holiday, the DOE also provided its latest weekly count of Covid cases.

There have been 383 confirmed cases of staff and students since Saturday, up from 325 the week before. In 276 of the new cases, the DOE said the infected person “was not on campus during the infectious period”, indicating that the protocol for staying home when sick “is working to help prevent the spread in schools “.

Union concerns

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents 13,500 teachers, this week asked that education officials negotiate a memorandum of understanding to help protect the safety of teachers in schools and to provide all appropriate triggers for emergency instruction.

Kalima Kinney, principal of the Volcano School of Arts and Sciences on the island of Hawaii, a public charter school, was one of many witnesses who pleaded with the BOE to consider the request for negotiations.

“A clear formula and accounting will be enough to maximize safety,” she said.

The DOE also provided an update on compliance with Governor David Ige’s emergency proclamation for state and county employees to be vaccinated against Covid or undergo mandatory weekly testing.

Hawaii teachers and other DOE staff have until Aug. 30 to upload proof of their immunization status or undergo weekly testing.

“This is a testing requirement and not a vaccine warrant, so there is no religious exception to testing,” Hayashi said.

As of Thursday, 14,300 of 45,000 DOE staff had uploaded their immunization status to an internal portal. Bacon said 78% of respondents were vaccinated.

However, in a message to members uploaded to its website on Thursday, the HSTA said there was a loophole in the new mandate: Those who previously contracted Covid and were allowed to return to work are exempt from weekly testing for 90 days.

He said the requirements for the exception include the absence of new symptoms, the completion of a period of isolation and quarantine, and a upload of documents confirming the date of infection and that the patient had been released.

Hayashi reiterated his confidence in safety protocols aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus in schools.

“We have systems in place to ensure safe learning environments,” he said. “The signs are that the pandemic is not going to end. In-person learning cannot stop.

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