There are now two cases of coronavirus in Hawaii, and while state authorities maintain that there is no known community spread of the virus, schools across the islands are still experiencing the indirect effects of this growing pandemic. Like many of them, in addition to instituting new health and safety policies concerning Covid-19, HBA has made the decision to cancel school-related travel to certain countries.
On February 25, the school announced in a high school band parent meeting that the Symphonic Wind Ensemble spring break trip to Japan was to be canceled due to concerns over Covid-19. The band had been preparing for the trip since last spring and they would have represented the United States at the prestigious Hamamatsu Music Festival. The festival has since been canceled but at time of the February meeting, any plans for cancellation were not made known to the school.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 2 Travel Health Notice for Japan, which recommends that older adults and those who suffer from chronic illnesses avoid traveling to the country. President Ron Shiira and high school principal Marsha Hirae shared with band students and their families in the meeting that the trip carried too much risk, from the potential exposure to the virus to the possibility of everyone being quarantined after the trip.
Shiira told the group that he had planned to travel to the festival in place of the band, as a way to “pay his respects” to the festival organizers on behalf of the school. “I have great sympathy for the organizers,” he said, “knowing that our cancelation will place a heavy burden on the festival.” However, after consulting with other administrators and the school’s Board of Directors, Shiira decided against the trip and sent a formal letter of apology instead.
While many students and their families felt disappointed that they had to miss this long-awaited performance opportunity, it was the potential loss of money paid toward the trip—for airfare, hotel accommodations, local transportation, and other travel expenses—that frustrated many people. During the meeting, representatives from Regal Travel, the travel agency that booked the trip, told families that they can only refund sixty percent of what was paid per traveler, which totaled $3,299. However, families were later notified by the agency via email on March 6 that they will actually receive a full refund for their airfare plus a travel gift certificate. The refund totaled $2,471. Families were also informed at the meeting that the school hopes to use the proceeds from last November’s band fundraiser to make up for money lost.
In preparation for the trip, band musicians had been putting in extra hours in rehearsals and sectionals after school and during holidays. For some of them, the school’s decision was a hard one to accept. Senior Kelsey Ota, flute section leader, said, “I was super upset because I’ve been waiting for so long for the trip to come, and I was excited to be able to play at the Hamamatsu Music Festival.” On the other hand, clarinet player and senior Kailey Chang felt relief. “I had a feeling that I would be really stressed on the trip even though we would only perform two days, and I would be worried not only about the performances but also my health,” she said. In addition to performing at the festival, Chang was also selected to perform a difficult clarinet concerto in a separate outdoor concert along with two other HBA seniors.
Addressing a serious crowd at the meeting, band director Brad Shimizu acknowledged the disappointment but took the opportunity to challenge the students toward a mature and productive response, saying that their choices will reflect on the “true character” of the band. “The trip is cancelled, but we still have class the next day,” he said. Shimizu pointed out that their perseverance and hard work still had value even if they were not able to perform in Japan.
Other vacation plans in jeopardy
Besides the band trip cancellation, spring break and summer plans for some students and faculty members are also jeopardy. Math teacher Ross Mukai has canceled his spring break trip to Japan. It was supposed to be a trip with his extended family, including his elderly parents. Mukai was mostly concerned about the potential risks to his parents’ health. He said, “My brothers and I talked, and suggested to my father about postponing the trip till things were in better control.” Mukai was able to get a refund for their airfare but had to forfeit the money he paid for train tickets in Japan.
Journalism teacher Eunice Sim has plans to return home to Singapore with her family for a visit this summer. While she has not decided to cancel the trip, she’s worried that she may not get a refund if she decides to do so. Singapore currently has 178 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and her flight transits in Japan. Weighing her options, Sim said, “What if on our return my son has a runny nose, God forbid he has a fever, which happens often for small kids, and we end up in quarantine?” For now, Sim plans on monitoring the news from Singapore and keeping tabs on government travel advisories.
Preparations in the event of school closure
Today, with just two school days left before spring break, HBA principals sent out a guide, called an online learning protocol, to parents that would be used in the event of school closures. As part of the contingency plan, teachers are setting up Google classrooms and other online learning tools to minimize the disruption to learning.
Yesterday, Shiira sent a message to all HBA families detailing the school’s plans and policies concerning Covid-19. Spring break will be extended by one day “to allow [HBA] faculty time to prepare lessons” in the event of school closures. It also provided instructions on what families are required to do if students or family members travel to CDC Level 2 and up countries. Families were also informed that on a daily basis, the school is disinfecting all high-touch surfaces. Hallways, lockers, walls, floors and common areas are also disinfected three times each week. The full message can be read here.
The school will continue to post updates at a dedicated webpage, and in the event of closures, students and parents will be informed via email. Notices will also be posted on the school’s website.
As students head into spring break, administrators are reminding everyone to monitor their health and to adopt additional hygiene practices like proper handwashing. More information and tips can be found on the CDC website.
Some helpful links
State of Hawaii Department of Health Coronavirus updates
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a list of EPA-approved disinfectants that are effective against the coronavirus.
CDC: What To Do If You Are Sick
CDC Video: What You Need to Know About Handwashing
New York Times: How to Prepare for the Coronavirus