Vaccination mandate for Hawaii public school students not planned, officials say



The Hawaii Department of Education chief said Thursday that there had not yet been discussions with state health officials about a possible vaccination mandate for school students. children aged 12 and over.

Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi told members of the Education Council that it would be a decision to be made by the Department of Health. Hayashi also said he had no information on how many of the 87,000 students eligible for the DOE vaccine who have been immunized against the virus that has so far killed 679 in Hawaii and sickened 73,856.

The DOH on Thursday reported eight new coronavirus-related deaths and 588 new confirmed and probable infections statewide. Seven of the latest deaths were in Oahu, the youngest woman in her 30s, and one on the island of Hawaii. The new cases include 388 in Oahu, 53 in Maui, 96 on the island of Hawaii, 38 in Kauai, four in Molokai and nine residents of Hawaii diagnosed out of state.

As of July 1, the DOE has reported nearly 3,000 cases in schools and offices.

Department of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr said the agency “is not currently discussing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students aged 12 and older. We are focusing on voluntary vaccination. of those who are eligible today. ”

As part of one of the country’s toughest anti-COVID-19 mandates, the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted on September 9 to require students aged 12 and over to be fully vaccinated before December 19. Those who cannot show proof of vaccination will not be allowed for in-person learning after winter break without medical or other exemption. The district has 630,000 students.

Hawaii BOE member Bruce Voss referred to the Los Angeles mandate and pointed out that the state already requires students to be vaccinated against measles, polio, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B and a host of other diseases.

“Given that these vaccinations are required for all students on the basis of science, then why isn’t there more urgency to determine if or when a student mandate (for COVID-19 vaccination) might be necessary? ” Voss asked.

Hayashi responded that his department defers to DOH advice on these matters, but would contact health officials after the meeting. Voss “strongly encouraged” this discussion to take place and that the DOE “move quickly” if warranted.

The superintendent informed members of the BOE that 90.4% of salaried employees in schools and DOE offices statewide were fully or partially vaccinated on Thursday, or 19,871 out of 21,978 workers. Two complexes – Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani and Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt – reported 95% of employees vaccinated.

The DOE has already organized 151 school-based vaccination clinics for students, staff and household members, according to Hayashi, and is ready to offer clinics in elementary schools once COVID-19 vaccines are approved for them. young children.

Council members also learned that the DOE this week implemented an attendance system to find out whether student absences were due to quarantine or other reasons.

During the public comment period for its general assembly on Thursday, members of the BOE were listened to by parents, teachers and others who complained about the apparent confusion and inconsistencies surrounding COVID-policies and practices. 19 of the DOE. Questions have also been asked about the lack of widespread surveillance testing to detect potential outbreaks and contact tracing when confirmed cases are detected.

“Since we’re back in school, there’s really no excuse,” said one parent.

Some spoke of a loss of confidence in school management and safety measures that led parents to withdraw their children from in-person learning in public schools or to leave the system altogether.

A number of witnesses also called for greater transparency of what is really happening on the ground, with at least two DOEs accusing parents of ‘gazlighting’ “because their experiences are so different from what is reported to families. Another parent remarked.

The DOE is stepping up surveillance testing, and all 257 public schools are expected to be enrolled in the federally-funded Operation Expanded Testing program by Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami told the board; 59 schools have already started testing. The program is voluntary, with parental approval required.

At a meeting of the student achievement committee earlier today, members of the BOE expressed disappointment that a draft updated “acceleration of learning” plan to tackle Learning loss linked to the pandemic did not provide details on how the programs would be delivered – the same concerns they expressed. at meetings in June and August.

While acknowledging the monumental challenges facing the DOE, committee chair Kili Namau’u said the plan still lacked important information and “there is a lack of urgency here.”

“We have so many options here and I think the department hasn’t delved into and looked at all the possibilities and all the opportunities with funding to make a big difference in our schools…” she said. “We have to help them now, and we can’t wait for a date to come from the department in another month, and then it will be on the agenda and we review and think about it. We need to act on this stuff now for the students who are falling through the cracks now. “

Options could include a system of home visits, tutoring, mentoring and other programs for the most vulnerable students, Namau’u said, adding that she was “appalled” that the project “only talks about summer school… there’s no mention of that sort of thing. “

Hayashi said DOE officials “definitely realize the urgency” of supporting teachers and students under the current circumstances. He said systems and funding are already in place in schools for support programs and to enable collaboration and sharing of best practices between campuses and complexes.

After visiting schools across the islands, “I can tell you that I have seen with my own eyes the enthusiasm and commitment of our students as they work alongside our teachers who are there and helping them. with 100% effort, ”he said.

The DOE continues to emphasize the importance of in-person learning, explained Hayashi, as students not only benefit from academic support while on campus, but can also interact with their peers and teachers, taking breakfast and lunch and take advantage of other “enveloping services already offered at the school.

Hayashi said that academic, social and emotional assessments of students are currently underway and will be used by education officials to further leverage federal funding for programs related to COVID-19. He said the data would be shared with the BOE at its October meeting.

The DOE received $ 412.5 million in emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools from the US Rescue Plan to reopen schools safely and return to in-person learning; address the academic impact of lost teaching time; invest in summer schools and after-school programs; provide staff to meet the needs of students; and offset budget cuts.



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