How Are Hawai‘i Universities and Students Coping with COVID-19?

Most classes going online and the University of Hawai‘i canceled commencement ceremonies, but not all private campuses have closed.
Empty school desk
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Thursday, March 19 Update:


Hawai‘i public schools will remain closed to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 with plans for some instruction to begin April 7, the state Department of Education said. But there are plans to help students who count on school for meals.


Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said officials are looking at various ways to reach out to students during the three-week closure, which could include packets sent home, online instruction and other options. While public and charter school students will return April 7, staff should plan to report back on a staggered schedule:


  • April 3: Custodians, principals and administrators.

  • April 4-5 (weekend): Custodians continue deep cleaning of campuses.

  • April 6: Teachers prepare classrooms.

  • April 7: Students return. 


For most, spring break was originally scheduled to run from March 16–20 but the break was extended twice. The state’s three multi-track schools—Kapolei Middle, Mililani Middle and Holomua Elementary—will also be off.


Student meal service. During the extended closure, the department will continue to provide student meals, including grab-and-go breakfast and lunch at 38 sites during these hours:


  • Weekdays, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. for breakfast.

  • Weekdays, from 11:30 a.m. to noon for lunch.

  • No meals, Thursday, March 26 for Prince Kūhiō Day.


The state selected locations with a high number of students eligible for the free and reduced-price lunches. More sites may be added.


Graduation and other school events. Officials already canceled or postponed events involving large groups. Decisions on graduation ceremonies, normally held in mid-to-late May, have not yet been made. However, today UH canceled its commencement ceremonies.


Notification of COVID-19 cases. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, education officials say they will not notify the public. Instead, the DOE will defer to the health department because of privacy laws. More information will be posted at


Wednesday, March 18 Update, 5:30 p.m.:


Hawai‘i public schools now plan to close for students until April 7, the state Department of Education announced this morning on its website.The DOE indicated that employee return dates will be staggered. “Employees will be working remotely and those who need to perform duties at a campus or office during this period will be limited to those tasks before returning to their telework arrangement,” the statement said.


The department said it will be meet internally with key stakeholders today to finalize logistics. The DOE will also close its offices, except for essential functions, effective tomorrow, Thursday, March 19. Additional details will be made public at a press conference Thursday, March 19, at 3 p.m. The press conference will be streamed live on Facebook at


UH is shifting online. UH president David Lassner sent a letter yesterday saying formal commencement ceremonies are canceled because of coronavirus concerns for the 10 campuses within the statewide system. He says the school is looking for options to offer participation in future ceremonies or possible rescheduling. That came a day after he told students and families that instruction will shift to online for the rest of the semester. On Monday, March 23, the communications system will get a large-scale test as that is the first day that all instruction is expected to be online as spring break ends this week. Lassner said campus libraries are closing to the public but remaining open to students; more facilities may be closed that aren’t being used; and dining services are being phased out and replaced with to-go, grab-and-go and delivery options. He also announced that public events are canceled through the end of April and so is nonessential travel, including to the Neighbor Islands.


BYU-Hawai‘i is online and began teaching all classes remotely on March 18. Students have the choice to remain in the Lā‘ie area for the rest of this semester, where services, small-group activities and student housing will continue to be available and dining options are being modified to allow social distancing. And BYUH canceled all gatherings for performances, concerts, public lectures and conferences until further notice


Chaminade is online but open. The private Chaminade University announced March 18, that online instruction will be extended through the end of the spring term for all students. This week, officials said campus remained open for normal business operations: All offices and departments will continue business with no disruption in service to students, and campus community and residence halls will remain open.


Hawai‘i Pacific University is online but open. Last week, the private downtown university announced that as of March 18, all classes moved to an online format for the duration of the semester, giving students an option to remain on campus or return home and finish the term. The move also shifted military base classes to online. Beginning today, March 20, the school said it would begin social-distancing measures in the student services center, that dining services moved to takeout only that is available to students but closed to the public and security services have been stepped up as neighboring merchants close. And that the eSports arena is closed through April 3. No word yet if a May commencement ceremony is still expected.


Tuesday, March 17 Update:


Schoolteachers challenge earlier plan. The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association yesterday challenged Gov. David Ige’s plan directing teachers to return to public schools on March 23 by filing a prohibited practice complaint with the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board.


The schoolteachers' union argues the plan violates its collective bargaining agreement and puts students, teachers and the community more at risk for the disease. During a news conference Tuesday, the governor urged the shutdown of services in places of worship, that bars and clubs should close, and restaurants should only serve customers through deliveries and take-out service.


But Ige also said, “We believe that having schools that practice appropriate social distancing methods to create a safe and stable learning environment for our children is very important in this time for our entire community.”


HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said, “As a teacher at Hawai‘i’s largest school, Campbell High, which has 3,000-plus students, I have had to teach more than 40 students in one period. I know social distancing won’t work. I have heard from kindergarten teachers who have shared that trying to stop kindergartners from touching their noses and then wanting to give you a hug is impossible.


Out of concern for the potential spread of COVID-19, Ige announced Sunday, March 15, that Hawai‘i public schools would extend this week's spring break for an additional week. That would have kept schools closed through March 27.


State health director Bruce Anderson continues to stress that the best way to slow the spread of the disease in Hawai‘i is to practice social distancing, keep away from others, work from home, avoid large gatherings and take precautions seriously. “This is the time we need to take action,” Anderson said. “It’s not too soon.”


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman