Classes Go Online

COVID-19: Schools Close, Classes Go Online

In the midst of a global pandemic, Hawaiʻi Department of Education and the University of Hawaiʻi system take measures to mitigate spread of virus

Associate Editor Clara Scheidle

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story.

A graphic of a mail icon with the word "update" on it.

In the early hours of March 12, every student in the University of Hawaiʻi system received an email from UH President David Lassner announcing that classes for all 10 campuses were to move online following spring break, effective March 23.

An email with further details was released later that day, stating that courses that have to be conducted face-to-face will proceed as usual, and that students will be notified of this once the campus has approved their class. Otherwise, teachers should will responsible for moving course material online and contacting students to delineate how the course will be conducted henceforth. They also decided to stop planning all out-of-state, university sponsored travel; students affected by this were encouraged to reach out to their “supervisor and/or fiscal administrator for guidance on canceling or postponing travel.”

UH stated they were postponing or cancelling public events which would garner a gathering of 100 or more persons, in addition to refraining from scheduling any further events. This raised the question of commencement ceremonies, which were still under discussion.

The following day, University Housing and Resident Life (UHARL) sent their response to President Lassner’s email. It stated that they “will remain open with all normal business operations and services in place.” Included in the email was an Intent to Vacate form for students opting to check out of university housing early before the end of the Spring 2020 semester, along with information on how to do so. In addition, a link to SODEXO’s response to COVID-19 was provided for those seeking more information about the dining services, which at the time were slated to remain open.

That weekend, on March 15, the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE) released a press statement extending spring break “for all public and charter school students.” Originally from March 16 to March 20, the new date ended instead on March 27. In the press release, HIDOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto stated, “this was not an easy decision to make but we take seriously our responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and the broader community while carrying out our educational mission.”

The press release continued to acknowledge that public schools are an essential source of care for some students, from providing free health services to free and reduced price meals. Kishimoto added that they intend to restart school as soon as possible to be able to provide for the students.

Another update from President Lassner occurred on March 16. This email provided the information that UH will be “following the new federal recommendations posted by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) today, that for the next eight weeks, we will cancel or postpone public events of 50 or more people,” an even smaller number of people than previously recommended. A decision on commencement, however, was still yet to be made.

March 18 saw important updates from both the UH system and HIDOE, and President Lassner sent out another email detailing the systemwide decision to move courses online for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. The email states, “changes to facilities and practices will be made to maximize social distancing in accord with CDC guidelines for Institutions of Higher Education.”

A shift in the dining service plan has occurred as well. “Traditional dining services are being phased out and replaced with To-Go, Grab-n-Go and/or Delivery food services,” reads the email.

HIDOE’s press statement said that schools will close on March 30, following the extension of spring break. This closure is anticipated to end on April 7, with students returning to school on that day. HIDOE employees are going to begin remote work on March 19. There were to be more details on this released during another public press release on March 19.

This press release describes the timelines for which personnel would return to the schools and information regarding which locations and during what times schools will be providing grab-n-go meals. These breakfasts and lunches are available to children under 18, and they will be offered during the school closure upon return from spring break. Graduation ceremonies, which are regarded in the press statement as generally occurring in “mid to late May,” have not yet been delayed; though they acknowledge that the situation may change, in which more information will be relayed.

President Lassner announced the systemwide decision to cancel commencement ceremonies and close all 10 campuses to the public, released on March 19 and 20 via email, respectively. Regarding the cancellation of commencement ceremonies, Lassner has asked students to think of it as a delay rather than a loss.

“Nothing should eclipse the feelings of well-earned pride of our graduates and everyone who has worked hard to help them achieve this important goal,” he stated.

As of March 31, summer courses are also being moved online systemwide. There are two different sessions of summer school, the first from May 26 to July 3 and the second from July 6 to August 14. This second session may have a face to face option, depending on a reevaluation on the “status of the COVID-19 health crisis,” that will be conducted by May 15, according to an email sent on behalf of the University of Hawaiʻi.

The transfer to online courses has made many students stress about grading, especially during these times. To help students make this difficult transition, UH is implementing an emergency grading policy that states, “For Spring semester 2020, students in all undergraduate or graduate UH classes ending after March 20, 2020, will have the option of taking their classes on a Credit/No Credit (CR/NC) basis.” A course with a C or better warrants the CR option, whereas anything less may be taken as NC. An NC course will not be counted towards the GPA, and on transcripts the reasoning for both the CR ad NC options will be listed as “semester interrupted by COVID-19. Students will have the opportunity to see their grades before making the decision, as this option is open to students until May 22.

HIDOE is also making adjustments. After U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that federally mandated testing this spring would be more flexible due to the impact of the coronavirus, HIDOE took the opportunity to apply for the waiver. Mere hours later on March 20, they received approval to examinations. More discussion on this matter is forthcoming. On April 2, the board unanimously voted to modify graduation requirements in high schools for the class of 2020. Though its final form has yet to be officially approved by Kishimoto, it is expected to be released the week of April 6.

Students and employees across the UH system have been encouraged to practice social distancing as the institution transitions over to online courses and services, and President Lassner continues to urge the UH community to “stay tuned for more updates and information as this continues to be a rapidly developing situation.”