(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi Department of Health on Monday posted updated school guidance for the upcoming year, as the number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise across the State.
“The Hawaiʻi Department of Health recognizes the health benefits of children attending school in person, including the fundamental links between education and long-term health outcomes,” wrote the DOH on its website, where the guidance for schools has been published. “The updated Guidance for Schools provides multiple mitigation strategies that are designed to be layered, flexible, and aligned with CDC guidance, to help slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and maintain safe school environments and operations,” DOH added.
In a summary of the changes in the latest guidance, DOH said it is promoting COVID-19 vaccination as a core essential strategy. Physical distancing in school settings – with 3 feet between students and six feet for adults – was named as an additional mitigation strategy, along with screening testing.
The guidance says there should be no requirement for a negative COVID-19 test or a clinician’s note to return to school after isolation and quarantine.
The document also contains updated mask guidance for indoor and outdoor settings, explains how sports and extracurricular activities will take a risk-based approach, and provides definitions for “a student close contact” in a K-12 indoor classroom setting.
The new guidance deletes the need for physical barriers, removes limits on the number of students to a seat on school buses, and deletes reopening thresholds and learning models.
The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association responded in support of the new guidance, and “lauded the department’s use of masks as a mitigation strategy”, while emphasizing the need to continue with online options.
“We want to make sure that students also have access to online options, especially for parents who are worried to send their students back who are younger than 12 years old,” said HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr., “and for every child that is on an online option, that’ll just make it one less student in the classroom and allow us to socially distance even better. But what we don’t want to do is have teachers mandated to teach simultaneously, where they’re teaching both online and in person at the same time. We’ve had a lot of them having to do that last year, and it just did not work. For both sets of students, it was not effective,” Tui added.
Tui also said in-person interaction should be limited to students and teachers only. “When we have these faculty meetings where teachers are going to be in rooms together, what we don’t want is for there to be a COVID outbreak among the teachers, and then effectively having to quarantine all of our teachers at a school. That is absolutely not going to work,” he said.
Tui said, “our teachers have wanted to be back in school with their students for a while now, and they are committed to making their classrooms as safe as possible for their students.”