LIHU‘E — The state Department of Education reported 381 COVID-19 cases within schools between Sept. 10 and Sept. 16. Thirty-nine of those cases were on Kaua‘i.
Elementary schools on island accounted for 27 of the total cases. Elementary-school students are still not eligible for any COVID vaccine, as none have received federal approval for children under 12 years of age.
Kapa‘a Elementary and Kekaha each reported eight cases last week.
Waimea High reported six, while Kilauea reported five.
Wilcox reported three.
Kapa‘a Middle, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle and King Kaumuali‘i Elementary had two cases each.
Kapa‘a High, Kalaheo and Kaua‘i High had just one case each during this reporting cycle.
Thirteen of the cases were not on campus within a week of when their cases were reported.
While average weekly COVID cases for the statewide district are decreasing, this last week marked a sharp uptake in DOE cases on Kaua’i. School safety continues to be at the forefront of the school board’s agenda.
At Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting, several people expressed frustrations, pointing to a lack of consistency and transparency in contact tracing.
Currently, school administrators are utilizing tools like seating charts and video footage to determine if a student is a close contact of a known positive case, which can be labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Several teachers and parents questioned the DOE’s repeated claims that COVID transmission is not happening in the schools.
“There are major safety concerns in our schools (over) a lack of planning for worst-case scenarios. There are inconsistent practices throughout our system despite the department’s health and safety guidance,” said Hawai‘i State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr.
“The system is burning down under your watch as school-level personnel increasingly lose faith that anything will be done by (the BOE) or by (DOE Interim Superintendent Keith) Hayashi.”
Dana Moore, a parent and nurse, told board members that she is homeschooling her daughter because she has significant safety concerns.
“Without testing, contact tracing, timely notification of exposures and quarantine, school transmission is occurring silently. It’s misleading to tell parents that in-school transmission is not happening and that schools are safe,” Moore testified.
On Sept. 10, the DOE communications office deferred questions about school clusters to the state Department of Health in an emailed request for information. The DOH later confirmed that they are not collecting data as to if students are close contacts of known positive cases on campus. It is unclear if there are any state entities that are following this.
Local school administrators keep track of COVID cases in within their schools.
While there is no centralized location for the public to view information on the presence of clusters in schools, principals at Kapa‘a Elementary and Kapa‘a Middle keep track of spread at their own schools.
According to Principal Julia Sanderl, as of Sept. 14 none of Kapa‘a Middle School’s COVID cases had been in close contacts to previously reported positive cases on school campus.
On Friday, Principal Jason Kuloloia said the same for Kapa‘a Elementary.
Kapa‘a Elementary has had 32 total cases this academic year, more than any other school on Kaua‘i. With all cases appearing to have come from the community, Kuloloia hopes that community members will step up to lower the spread of COVID to students outside of school.
In an interview Friday, Kuloloia emphasized the negative effect confirmed cases have on students who are close contacts and must quarantine for 10 days before returning to school. Kuloloia encourages people to consider these consequences when making decisions on attending social gatherings and doing unnecessary travel.
“If we want to keep kids safe, we have to change our behaviors,” Kuloloia said.
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island