Ige sees public schools being able to fully reopen for in-person learning by this fall

  • IGE

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Whitney Aragaki talks through an assignment with one of her online biology classes over Zoom at Waiakea High School on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Last month, Waiakea announced it would continue with only distance learning through the rest of the school year.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Students work on homework or attend classes in a learning hub set up in the cafeteria at Waiakea High School on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The learning hub is available for anyone who needs access to internet or technology for distance learning.

Gov. David Ige said Tuesday he anticipates public schools to be fully reopened for in-person learning this fall.

“That’s definitely the goal, and I don’t see any situation that we wouldn’t be able to do that,” Ige said during a phone interview on several subjects.

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“You know, we expect to have vaccinations for those 12-16 in the coming months, and hopefully, before the fall semester starts,” he said. “And I do know, on the call with the White House, that there are studies right now of vaccinations of children 6-12 in progress. And, hopefully, we’ll have vaccinations for children 6 and older. That will allow us to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.

“And if many of our students are vaccinated, that will allow us to open schools for in-person learning in a much safer way.”

The coronavirus pandemic caused schools to close their doors almost completely to students for a significant portion of the 2020-21 school year, but most schools have gone back to a hybrid model of learning.

State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto came under fire by the state teachers’ union and others for how she handled the coronavirus pandemic. She announced last month that she wouldn’t seek an extension of her contract, which expires following the school year, saying the controversy over whether it should be renewed was an “unnecessary distraction.” She said she’d devote her remaining time to opening more schools.

“I do support the superintendent in what we’ve done with our public schools,” Ige said. “You know, at this point in time, 75% of the students are back on campus, at least for a period of time, for in-person learning. And, I think it’s very appropriate to be cautious about bringing students back.”

Ige defended the decision to keep campuses closed to a majority of students at a time when some mainland school districts reopened their doors for in-person instruction.

“I know that other districts have rushed to bring students back and then have had to shut down again because they just weren’t ready, and there weren’t sufficient mitigation strategies in place. And then they had outbreaks that were driven by students in schools,” he said. “I am proud that Hawaii continues to lead the country in lowest infection rates and lowest fatality rates. And we’re committed in helping students who have been impacted and have struggled in online learning. And we are committing the resources to help them catch up.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Monday that he thinks quarantine exemptions for some fully vaccinated travelers could start as early as May 1, via a Safe Travels Card, a type of vaccination passport.

Noting he doesn’t “make announcements” until plans are finalized, Ige said he doesn’t “have a specific timeline at this point.”

“We definitely are interested in starting to recognize vaccinations interisland,” he said. “We’re working through the details. It’s a very complex process. We need to validate that someone got vaccinated and then really work through the logistics of how to get people through the airport in a way that doesn’t create bottlenecks and create other issues.”

Ige said he’s concerned about cuts in both House and Senate versions of the budget bill, saying the $1.6 billion the state received in the latest round of federal coronavirus relief funds render those cuts unnecessary.

“There have been significant cuts that the Legislature has made in positions and dollars that would result in layoffs of public servants,” he said. “… We believe the American Rescue funds are sufficient so that we’re not looking at furloughs at all, anymore. And we do believe that we can fund all of those that are currently working in state government.”

A floor amendment introduced at the direction of House Speaker Scott Saiki to the Senate budget bill suspends the Commission on Salaries’ recommended salary increases for the governor and his Cabinet, judges and legislators through Dec. 31, 2022. The amendment was passed unanimously Tuesday by the full House.

Ige said in a statement later Tuesday that he supports the amendment to suspend the pay raises.

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“I informed my Cabinet months ago that I would not be taking the salary increase recommended by the Commission on Salaries, and I asked my Cabinet to do the same,” he said. “As public servants, it is our duty to do our part to help the state rebuild the economy, while keeping the health and safety of our community our top priority.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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