Oahu students to start school year with distance learning

HONOLULU (AP) — Amid an alarming spike of coronavirus cases in Hawaii, public school students on Oahu will begin the academic year with distance learning only, officials announced Friday.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said that most students will spend the first four weeks of the school year learning online from home after originally planning to start the year with a mostly hybrid model where students alternated between online and in-person classes.

A handful of schools had planned to offer full in-person instruction.

The state will go to the hybrid approach in September if community transmission of the disease is brought under control.

Oahu has seen the majority of new cases in recent weeks, filling up hospital beds and spurring officials to close beaches, parks and hiking trails.

Hawaii reported 201 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases on Friday — 200 on Oahu. Of the 3,115 reported cases statewide, more than 2,500 are on Oahu, the state's most populated island.

There were also two new deaths this week.

“Today we received the heartbreaking news that two more of our neighbors passed away due to COVID-19," Ige said. “This is a disturbing trend of triple-digit cases over the last week. I know you are concerned about these growing numbers. And this is why we needed to reinstate the inter-island quarantine and restrictions on Oahu."

Officials said schools on other islands will be making decisions about how to reopen in the coming weeks. But Oahu was treated urgently because of the prevalence of COVID-19.

Hawaii’s teachers union had asked that all public schools only offer distance learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said the union wants distance learning through the first quarter, or until it's safe to be on campuses.

“Hawaii can no longer pretend we are not in the middle of a pandemic, and that somehow our keiki and our teachers are impervious to this virus,” Rosenlee said, using the Hawaiian word for children.

Schools statewide district are scheduled to start the year Aug. 17 after the opening was recently postponed by two weeks.

For a time, Hawaii had the lowest infection rates in the nation. But as restrictions were relaxed, the virus began spreading.

The union successfully led the previous effort to delay the start of the school year by two weeks.