HONOLULU (AP) — Anastasiya Kamaletdinova spent her first day of eighth grade at Honolulu's Kaimuki Middle School Monday on a computer in her bedroom.
“I was more shy than usual,” Anastasiya, 13, said. “Everything was great except for the last 20 minutes, I had problems with my computer and I couldn’t hear my teacher for some reason.”
Like many public school students across Hawaii, she started the new academic year remotely as coronavirus cases are surging on Oahu, where Honolulu is located.
The statewide teachers union led an effort to delay the first day for students by two weeks. At the union's urging, the Hawaii Department of Education later announced most schools would start the first four weeks online.
The union is still concerned there are students on campuses this week.
Education officials say some students will be on campuses for things such as picking up learning materials and learning how to use technology for remote instruction.
“We’re only a few hours into the first day to get a real pulse of how things are going across the state,” Nanea Kalani, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education, said in an email. “We don’t have a tally at the state level of how many schools jumped right into distance learning versus how many are offering in-person orientations or training," she said, because school leaders were allowed to make their own plans.
This week, Aikahi Elementary on Oahu's windward side is welcoming small groups of students for a few hours each day for orientation, training on distance learning systems and connecting with teachers and friends, said Principal Keoki Fraser.
The union warned some teachers would be using personal or sick leave to avoid jeopardizing health and safety.
Fraser said all his teachers were present Monday.
As of Monday morning, the education department reported 496 requests for substitute teachers statewide. The department has nearly 13,000 teachers and about 4,700 substitutes on staff.
Anastasiya's father Burke Burnett, who is part of a parent group called Hawaii for a Safe Return to Schools, said he's glad her school held a drive-through Chromebook pickup on Friday instead of making her spend time on campus.
“She waved at her homeroom teacher, but that was it,” he said. “That's what we were calling for. ... Given the conditions of the state of new rates of infections, that's the only safe way to handle it right now.”
The first day of Spencer Kimura's daughter's sophomore year at Kaiser High School in east Honolulu involved only stopping by to pick up materials.
“It’s sad because just three weeks ago Hawaii was the envy of the nation with our low COVID numbers," Kimura said.
For a time the state had the lowest number of cases in the nation per capita. But as restrictions were relaxed, the virus began spreading more, especially on Oahu.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
With recent new cases numbering in the triple digits daily, government leaders have tightened some measures, including closing Oahu's parks to prevent large gatherings.
It's a “no-win situation,” Kimura said. “Everyone and the teachers and even their families have been dealt a bunch of lemons. And, you know, we’re just trying to make the best of it as we can.”