Hawaii – Reopening Public Schools

Picture of Hawaii DOE Logo

By: T. Jeffersonian

Completely reversing previous statements, the Hawaii Schools Superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, reported on Friday, February 26, 2021, that she was exploring the possibility of reopening all public elementary schools in the fourth quarter of the academic year 2020-2021.  Conversely, earlier in the same week, the Superintendent had stated that Hawaii schools were unlikely to fully reopen until the fall. This consideration was made disregarding the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that suggested it is safe to welcome students back with precautions.

After the Superintendent reported that she was exploring the reopening of all public elementary schools, the Hawaii State Department of Education also released a letter from acting state epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Kemble, in which she outlines why reopening schools is safe. Dr. Kemble said that schools are not amplifiers of Coronavirus transmission. She further said that schools in fact are one of the safest environments for children in regards to Coronavirus. Schools have implemented mitigation efforts that are able to control Coronavirus transmission better than many community settings.

The same day that the Superintendent stated that she was exploring options to reopen elementary schools and Dr. Kemble reported that schools are one of the safest environments, I was notified by my child’s elementary school principal that my child would resume in-person learning for five days a week during the week of March 22, 2021. However, grades five and six will continue a hybrid on-line/in-person schooling model, but the youngest students will be allowed back to in-person schooling full time. 

On January 22, 2021, President Joe Biden stated that the continued closings of schools was a national emergency. He affirmed his commitment to reopening grades K-12 to in-person attendance within his first 100 days in office. Additionally, on January 27, 2021, the new CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, tweeted after only seven days in her job: 

“CDC recommends that K-12 schools be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.  Data suggest school settings do not result in rapid spread of Coronavirus when mitigation measures are followed, including masking, decreased density, and proper ventilation.”  

Director Walensky’s tweet was the same guidance given to public schools and state administrations during the Trump Administration. This guidance was offered to the public starting in the summer of 2020, but many Democrat-run states and cities would not even budge on reopening schools. They did not want to make the national situation seem to be getting better, otherwise it is likely that their political opponents might have done better in the National Election. No mass vaccinations and no herd immunity had been established at the time when the new President and the new CDC Director made their late January 2021 statements. In Hawaii just under nine percent of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. This is far short of the herd immunity requirements that Dr. Anthony Fauci consistently tauts. The only conditions that have changed is that the Democrats are now running the Executive and Legislative branches.  Conditions are no safer than they were before.

Behind the scenes, I suspect that there is some serious arm twisting going on. Hawaii is $1.4 billion short in annual revenue. The state deficit is expected to grow by another $1 billion during 2021. The $1.9 trillion stimulus package was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Hawaii is depending on receiving federal government funding to pay off loans from last year enabling the state government to remain functional. 26 percent of the state’s wage earning employees are represented by large unions. The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) is the exclusive representative for 13,700 public school teachers statewide. As the state affiliate of the 3-million-member National Education Association, HSTA represents and supports teachers in collective bargaining, as well as with legislative and professional development. HSTA has considerable clout inside Hawaii and brings significant external leverage to support their aims inside the state.

I suspect that reopening schools sooner rather than later is a Democrat condition for the states to receive their allocated funding of the $1.9 trillion stimulus. The federal aid in question could be delayed or even withheld potentially, should the states refuse to reach certain benchmarks according to their established timelines. The Hawaii state government is dependent on receiving federal aid. Hawaii Democrats will now do whatever it takes to receive that aid. The HSTA and unfortunately our children are simply being used as pawns in a grander political chess match ongoing between state and federal Democrats.