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Friday, August 28, 2020

Frequently asked questions relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) and schools

Information is accurate as of our latest update and subject to change

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is working hard to ensure that our members' health and safety remain a priority, our contract and employment rights are preserved, and information is being communicated in an accurate and timely manner.

We have also seen an escalation in rumors circulating about coronavirus (COVID-19) and its possible impact on Hawaii’s schools, teachers, students, and families. We are actively discussing our members' most important concerns with the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) and offer this post to answer frequently asked questions.

Please note that with the situation evolving at such a rapid pace, the information we provide is subject to change. Each answer will be dated so readers know when that information was provided. Questions that no longer apply have been archived here.

Click for questions:

Please note that some topics are listed on this page while others are linked to separate, dedicated posts.

Click here to view the National Education Association’s collection of frequently asked questions on educator rights and benefits amid schools closings.

Return to our main COVID-19 web page


General questions

My school has determined a new instructional model to open the school year, which means a change in the bell schedule. There seems to be some confusion about the new schedule. Does it have to follow all of the contractual provisions related to work day and work week?

Yes. Unless expressly cited in the MOU, all provisions of the contract apply. This includes, among other things, a scheduled seven (7) hour work day, with no work day ending after 4:30 p.m., a break of 15 minutes after 180 minutes of consecutive instruction, a duty-free lunch of a minimum of 30 minutes, and 225 minutes of teacher initiated preparation time a week. — July 6, 2020

Will there be any change in the use and/or process for 21 hours of job embedded professional development leave? 

No, 21 hours will still be utilized in SY 2020–21, and teachers will still earn 3 PD credits and the additional pay for the hours worked. Click here for more information on how 21 hours work and how they should be differentiated. Note: You must be logged on with your registered account to view this information. Learn how to create a website account here.

Teachers last rated highly effective also have the option to apply for flexible use of their 21 hours. Click here for more information. — July 6, 2020

I am at a public charter school. Do we follow the HIDOE or can we make our own decisions?

Under state law Hawaii Revised Statute §302D-17(e), the State Public Charter School Commission has the authority to direct governing boards and charter schools to take appropriate action to address serious health and safety issues. On March 4, the commission accepted Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s offer to coordinate and direct all of our 37 public charter schools for the purposes of responding to threats posed by a potential COVID-19 outbreak. We understand this means that public charter schools may not take actions such as closure without the superintendent’s approval. In addition, public charter schools are expected and required to follow all HIDOE procedures related to COVID-19 response. This would include all the memos posted on the HIDOE website. On Thursday, June 18, the Board of Education passed this resolution regarding reopening of schools. The resolution provides directives and guidance to the superintendent regarding all public schools. Among other things, it indicates that “the Board encourages each charter school to use the Superintendent’s comprehensive guidance as it sees fit and to provide its students, families, and school personnel with clear guidance on the steps the charter school is taking to ensure their health and safety.” In addition, the state of Hawaii and HSTA reached agreement on a memorandum of understanding related to school year 2020–21 and COVID-19. Charter schools must follow this supplemental. Charter teachers should contact their HSTA UniServ Director if they have more questions. — July 2, 2020

Does our charter school have to follow the recently changed HIDOE calendar for student return?

Per state law, Hawaii Revised Statute §302A-1132, charter schools do not have to follow the calendar set by the BOE, nor do they have to meet the 180 instructional days. However, they must follow HSTA’s contract and MOU on reopening schools. With the recent change in the start date to the 2020–21 school year, HSTA worked with the HIDOE on an agreed interpretation that ensures HIDOE teachers do not lose the nine (9) hours of preparation time originally scheduled for Aug 4–14 as half-days with students. All charter schools must make sure that they are in compliance with the MOU before students return to school, including that they can meet all health and safety guidelines and expectations. As each charter school can be very different—and we know each is making adjustments to their calendar—charter teachers should contact their UniServ Director for further assistance. — Aug. 4, 2020

Why did multi-track, 10-month teachers have to report July 1?

This ensured that there was no impact to multi-track, year-round school teachers’ paycheck cycles. If you did not report until July 29 with other 10-month teachers, you would not be paid on July 20 and Aug. 5, as those are normally the first two paychecks of your school year and you would not have worked. — June 30, 2020

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Questions relating to HIDOE guidance

What’s the status of the agreement between HSTA and the state of Hawaii and Board of Education?

During the coronavirus pandemic, the HSTA and the superintendent reached several agreements related to school closures. In addition, the HSTA and State of Hawaii and Board of Education reached agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding as a supplemental agreement to the current contract. All agreements and additional formal correspondence are linked below. — Aug. 4, 2020

What happens now that the Board of Education has delayed the return of students to the school buildings?

The HSTA met with the HIDOE and, due to the time constraints, rather than renegotiate the section of the MOU affected (2.b and 2.c, page 7), we reached agreement on a contract interpretation to account for the modifications needed to the operational aspects of the first nine (9) days. These days will be full days without students, but teachers will still receive a minimum of nine (9) hours of teacher-initiated preparation time. Each block of time will be at least one (1) hour and will be scheduled by the administrator. This letter addresses the agreement and contract interpretation. — Aug. 4, 2020

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Questions relating to health and safety

What are the health and safety rules for reopening of schools?

Members should refer to the recently agreed Memorandum of Understanding between HSTA and the state of Hawaii. On July 1, the HIDOE released what it is calling the Ready to Learn: School Reopening Plan. On July 29, the department updated its health and safety guidance. HSTA continues to review all documents and will add more updates as they become available. — Aug. 4, 2020

Why are school buildings reopening at all? I thought the HIDOE put out guidance that said schools would not open unless there were four weeks without a new COVID-19 case? 

Originally, the HIDOE issued guidance on April 7 that indicated they would plan to reopen schools based on the following: 

  1. There is no recent evidence of community spread.
    1. No new cases for 4 weeks (2 incubation periods of the virus) on the island.
    2. Availability of workforce is sufficient for reopening each school.
    3. If need to stagger the reopening of schools, the HIDOE will follow the County’s lead.

However, on April 17, the HIDOE removed that section and issued an amended guidance document. The latest version we are aware of is dated April 30. On page 22, you will see that section remains blank.

The HSTA continues to advocate that the Department of Health (DOH) should be providing metrics and specific guidance on when schools should and should not be open to students and/or staff. To date, the DOH has failed to provide any such guidance. The only guidance currently provided can be found on this page of the HIDOE website— Aug. 4, 2020

Can you explain the section of the MOU that states the following: “All teachers will have the option to participate in any meeting, including, but not limited to faculty, department, grade level, evaluation, parent/teacher, and curriculum-related meetings through teleconferencing”?

This means that teachers may utilize the option to participate in a meeting through teleconferencing technology (i.e. Webex) and remain in their classroom or office. Teachers should notify the meeting facilitator of this request in advance so the facilitator can properly prepare. No teacher should be forced to particulate in a meeting in person. This teleconferencing option does NOT mean that teachers have the right to telework off campus. It is understood that teachers will teleconference from a location on campus unless they have permission from their administrator to telework from a remote location. — Aug. 4, 2020

Are there any plans to test employees for COVID-19?

No. Even if all employees were tested, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of them contracting COVID-19 shortly after a negative test. — July 2, 2020

Can the employer ask me questions about my health status on a daily basis and/or make me fill out a daily report or survey on my health status?

Because of the ongoing pandemic, it is legal and appropriate for employers to ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus. This is to ensure they mitigate the risk of infection spreading from ill employees to others. For COVID-19, these symptoms are outlined by the CDC and are updated as more research and knowledge about COVID-19 becomes available. If an employer chooses to keep records of these screenings, it must maintain all information about the screening and/or employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the law. — Aug. 4, 2020

Can my principal require me to have my temperature taken to determine whether I have a fever?

Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been determined to be legal for employers to measure employees’ body temperature. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to confidentiality requirements. — Aug. 4, 2020

Will teachers be asked to take temperature checks? Is that allowed?

A teacher’s primary duty and responsibility is to teach. HSTA would generally consider teachers conducting temperature checks to not fall within the normal responsibility of a teacher. This type of activity would be a non-professional duty, and it was not something we agreed to in bargaining. However, HSTA knows of no specific plans for public schools to screen everyone’s temperature as a health check. — July 2, 2020

Do I have to stay home if I am feeling sick and/or can my principal send me home if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

Yes, you should stay home if you are feeling ill and/or your principal can send you home if you are showing signs of illness. According to the Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan Health & Safety Handbook, schools are required to screen employees for “overt signs of illness,” which include the following: “Upon arrival, interview and visually inspect all individuals (from at least 6 feet away) using the following symptom checklist: feverish or unusually warm (has flushed cheeks), coughing/sneezing, sore throat, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, headache/stomach ache/nausea, muscle pain/unusual fatigue, new loss of taste or smell. If any of these symptoms are present, the person should be sent home immediately.” — Aug. 4, 2020

Who makes the decision regarding a staff person or student being sent home because of symptoms of COVID-19?

The principal or designee, which on most campuses will be the school health aide. However, teachers should be alert for symptoms in children and send them to the health room for evaluation as appropriate. For more information on the screening process each school should perform, see pages 3–4 of the Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan Health and Safety Handbook. — Aug. 4, 2020

If I need to get tested for COVID-19 because of possible exposure, is that covered by the employer and/or insurance?

Yes. One-hundred percent coverage of cost should be provided for what is deemed to be “appropriate and medically necessary testing for COVID-19.” The guidelines for testing are provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH). Current CDC guidelines can be found here. This generally means that a medical doctor has determined that you need to be tested based on symptoms and/or close contact with an infected person.

Other testing, called screening test, for those who have no symptoms and or don’t meet the CDC guidelines is not usually covered and there will be an out of pocket cost.

For those that have health insurance through the state of Hawaii, you can find more details related to COVID-19 testing and treatment coverage with your medical plan here. — Aug. 6, 2020

What are the rules for when a student, employee, or close contact/household member tests positive for COVID-19? When are they allowed to return to campus?

Our contractual agreement requires medical clearance before return. In such cases, the DOH will conduct an investigation (see page 12 of the Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan Health and Safety Handbook) and those individuals involved will be directed to a 14-day quarantine or isolation. The DOH will work with the school principal to identify other affected individuals from the campus, and those individuals will receive a letter from the DOH. It is the responsibility of all employees to notify their supervisor if they test positive or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. When there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 on a campus, the protocols will intensify and decisions related to closing of facilities will be made. — Aug. 4, 2020

What guidance should schools follow for students or employees who have traveled out of state and/or to areas where a significant community outbreak of COVID-19 is present? Will those people be placed on mandatory leave?

At this time, the HIDOE and public charter schools are following guidance from the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH). There is currently a mandatory 14-day quarantine in place for all travelers entering the state of Hawaii. On June 24, the HIDOE issued this updated travel policy. In addition, a quarantine exception process is available to employees. If an employee is unable to telework during quarantine, they may apply for paid leave via the FFCRA leave process. The DOH also has current travel advisories listed on its website. — Aug. 4, 2020

Do I have to clean and sanitize my classroom?

While we all have a responsibility to ensure that we engage in best health and safety practices, our HSTA contract (Article VI, U, pg 20) requires that the employer ensure the “maintenance and cleanliness of the campus, classrooms and offices.” — June 30, 2020

Our school was built with air conditioning and/or retrofitted for air conditioning, will schools be required to turn off our air conditioning?

We know of no plans to require schools to turn off air conditioning systems. Schools are encouraged to bring fresh air into the building spaces as much as possible, and also make sure existing systems are operating properly and circulating in outside air as much as possible. Please see this memo for more information.  — Aug. 4, 2020

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Questions relating to leave

Click here to view the NEA’s frequently asked questions on paid leave and unemployment rights.

I don’t feel comfortable returning to campus as I am concerned about my health and/or risking the health of my household members. What are my leave options, and do I have any return rights to my school if I take a long-term leave?

Teachers* have a variety of options for leave depending on the duration and reason for the leave.  Whether a teacher is paid or not is directly related to a teacher’s paid sick leave or vacation (12-month teachers only) leave bank. The following options for leave may be utilized.

  • Personal leave may be taken for up to six (6) days per year. Teachers should be familiar with the rules about how this leave can be used, and it is taken from your sick leave bank for paid status. The leave is outlined on page 32 of your contract, and members can click here for additional member benefits resources that explain more about how personal leave works. Please note, this information is available on HSTA's members-only section of our website. You must be an active HSTA member and logged in with your registered account to view it.
  • Sick leave may be taken if a teacher is ill. You may take up to five (5) days sick leave prior to having to provide a sick leave note. After the fifth consecutive day, you will need to provide a note indicating you are under doctor’s care. Being paid on this type of leave is completely dependent upon the status of any sick leave bank a teacher may have. Each 10-month teacher is provided eighteen (18) days each year upon reporting to the first day of work for the school year. Twelve-month teachers receive 21 days of sick leave. In addition, teachers may take sick leave without pay for longer durations even beyond one-year. Members can click here to learn more about how personal leave works. Please note, this information is available on HSTA's members-only section of our website. You must be an active HSTA member and logged in with your registered account to view it.
  • Vacation leave may be taken by 12-month teachers who are provided 14 days of vacation leave a year, however there are rules specific to requesting and receiving approval for such leave.
  • Family leave may be taken for a variety of reasons depending on the nature of the request. For more information, see the information on FFCRA leave and/or regular FMLA leave below. Some family leave may be on a paid status depending on the circumstances.
  • Unpaid leave may be granted for other reasons including the following: child care, military leave, government service, professional improvement, religious holidays, and “other reasons the department considers reasonable.” All of these leaves have a variety of requirements for approval and vary in their duration.

Medical/health plans will continue while you are on a leave status regardless of paid or unpaid, but if you are on an unpaid leave, you are still responsible for your share of the health care premium.

Tenured teachers can take up to one year off with return rights to a position on their campus for which they are qualified. They can, in some cases, renew that leave for an additional year with rights back to their district.

*Non-tenured teachers have fewer rights related to taking long-term leave and/or return rights to a position. Generally, any rights are able to be utilized only within the current duration (one year) of your tentative teaching agreement (contract). — July 10, 2020

I need to travel out of state for personal business, e.g., to accompany my child to college, after the start of the school year. Now that the governor has extended the mandatory self-quarantine of 14 days for those coming from out of state, what are my options when I return to Hawaii?

Like many other residents, the extension of the mandatory self-quarantine will affect teachers who need to travel for personal business. A teacher can use their personal leave for this type of trip to take their child to college, however personal leave is limited to six (6) days per year. As of right now, we know of no plans for the HIDOE to approve individual teachers to telework during a travel-related quarantine.

This memo, issued June 24, states the following information related to personal travel: “State employees who traveled for personal reasons and returned from domestic (US) and international destinations and who are critical infrastructure sector workers, may be allowed to break self-quarantine to go to work and perform necessary functions. Employees can request a limited exemption from covidexemption@hawaii.gov, which will allow them to go to work upon return to Hawaii. See attached Comptroller’s Memorandum No. 2020-13 for more information. If an exemption is not granted, employees will need to take appropriate leave for the duration of their quarantine.”

On July 29, a subsequent memo was issued further clarifying the exemption process. The state will only allow teachers an exemption to pick up a laptop for work. Otherwise, they must remain at home. Teachers should review this memo and contact their administrator to discuss if they could utilize the telework option otherwise they will need to utilize their paid or unpaid leave options.

HSTA confirmed that if necessary, teachers could utilize Families First Coronavirus Response Act leave to be on paid leave for up to two weeks. The qualification would be for Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) leave for “employees who cannot work or telework with paid sick time off if the employee is: 1. An employee subject to a coronavirus quarantine or isolation order (eligible for full pay).”

If teachers don’t have any other leave options, they may have to take unpaid leave for purposes of the the self-quarantine. We will continue to update this section as we receive new information. — Aug. 4, 2020

If I am sent home due to illness, do I have to use my own sick leave to be on a paid status?

Yes. If you want to be on a paid status, you will need to utilize your paid sick leave. In addition, employees have access to use of FFCRA leave through the end of 2020. — Aug. 4, 2020

If I am sent home due to illness, can my principal require a doctor’s note certifying fitness for duty?

Yes. Such inquiries are permitted under the law. However, to HSTA’s knowledge, this is not currently required unless the person tests positive for COVID-19 or is returning after a long-term medical leave. — Aug. 4, 2020

If I test positive for COVID-19, will I be provided extra paid leave for the duration of any quarantine order and/or recovery?

Employees in this situation may file for and use their benefits under FFCRA leave for up to 10 paid days off that must be used by Dec. 31, 2020, or they will need to use their sick leave. If the employee is showing no symptoms and could work, they may request and be approved for telework. — Aug. 4, 2020

If I have to take leave because of COVID-19, will this affect my health benefits or service credit?

No, it should not affect your health benefits. As long as you are on paid leave, you will earn service credit.

The HIDOE pushed out a memo on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Leave and the accompanying leave form. This leave is specific to employees affected by COVID-19. The funding for this leave is provided via federal government stimulus and is not taken from an employee’s existing leave. Teachers are encouraged to review the options for leave and apply if appropriate. For Bargaining Unit 05 members, the 80 hours related to sick leave will be treated as 10 working days or two weeks paid leave. There is also an expanded family leave benefit. Please review the memo for full details. — April 13, 2020

May I utilize the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Leave to be on paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave if I am receiving workers’ compensation?

Per the U.S. Department of Labor: “In general, no, unless you were able to return to light duty before taking leave. If you receive workers’ compensation because you are unable to work, you may not take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave. However, if you were able to return to light duty and a qualifying reason prevents you from working, you may take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, as the situation warrants” (question 76). — April 13, 2020

If I test positive for COVID-19, may I apply for workers’ compensation benefits?

You may apply for workers’ compensation, but it is likely that the employer will challenge the claim. A key part of any claim will be proving that you contracted the illness at work. For more on this topic, please see the NEAs information on employer liability and workers’ compensation— Aug. 4, 2020

If my child’s school is closed due to COVID-19, or if my child’s school implements a blended learning model and has to stay home for distance learning, and I need to stay home to care for my child, what are my options? Can I request telework or take leave?

At this time, we know of no plans to approve Bargaining Unit 05 telework from home for purposes of child care. Those who need to take leave for care of their child have the following options. For paid leave, they may take personal leave (paid charged to sick) for up to six (6) days. Teachers may also take leave without pay for up to a year for child care. For more information about the above leave options, visit our members-only Know Your Rights page. You must be a registered user and logged in to view this page.

In addition to the above, the HIDOE provided the following information:

A teacher who is unable to report to work due to caring for their child (under age 18), with no alternative child care, may qualify for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave. Teachers may be approved to use Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) for the first 10 days intermittently within two consecutive weeks, but this can only be taken in full-day increments (there is no partial-day leave) at 2/3 pay. Employees may supplement with 1/3 of their own paid sick leave or vacation leave.

After the initial two consecutive weeks of EPSLA, employees may take an additional 10 weeks of Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) intermittently in full-day increments at 2/3 pay and supplement with 1/3 of their own paid sick leave. However, the 10 weeks of EFMLEA leave will count against your annual right to use 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) per year.

Please refer to the HIDOE’s memo related to FFCRA leave, and download the FFCRA COVID-19 emergency paid leave form. Teachers should be aware that all FFCRA leave all expires at the end of 2020. — July 16, 2020

Where can I find more information about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Leave?

The HIDOE has put out two sets of memos with attachments, one in April and one in July. The memos and attachments are extensive (see below). The FFCRA Overview of EPSLA and EFMLEA Chart attachment is especially helpful in understanding how the leave works.  

Please refer the the HIDOE’s memos related to FFCRA Leave:

— Aug. 4, 2020

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Questions relating to the Student Educational Program

What is the difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning models?

HSTA has not seen a specific definition put out by the HIDOE. We do understand that any citation of synchronous and asynchronous are in relation to distance learning for school year 2020–21. While we have not seen a specific definition, we can provide the following general definitions.

Synchronous learning happens in real time. This means that students and teachers interact in a specific virtual place, through a specific online medium, at a specific time. Methods of synchronous online learning include video conferencing, teleconferencing, live chatting, and live-streaming lectures.

Asynchronous learning generally happens on the student’s schedule, not in real time. The teacher provides materials for reading, lectures for viewing, assignments for completing, and tests for evaluation. The student has the ability to access and satisfy these requirements within a flexible time frame. Methods of asynchronous online learning include self-guided lesson modules, streaming video content, virtual libraries, posted lecture notes, and exchanges across discussion boards or other digital platforms. — July 6, 2020

Everyone keeps using the terms distance learning and telework. Are they the same thing?

Distance learning is a broad catchall phrase referring to when students are not reporting in-person on campus and will be learning from a remote location (i.e. home). Distance learning may be asynchronous or synchronous. Telework has nothing to do with students. It is a term referring to employees who work from a remote location. While in theory a teacher could provide distance learning via telework, it is far more likely that a teacher will be reporting to campus and teaching in-person from their classroom and providing students distance learning assignments to take home. — July 6, 2020

Can you explain how the blended learning models will work? I can’t seem to understand how I can be teaching half my students at the same time.  

There are a variety of ways that the blended learning programs could work, and we anticipate that each school, grade level, department and/or teacher will figure out what works best for them. A simple explanation for a blended rotation is where students report on campus for in-person instruction for two days, and are then sent home with instructions for distance learning. The distance learning assignment could be reading, projects, writing assignments, videos, or other asynchronous learning activities. It could also be that some teachers want to try and have synchronous learning occur, where students at home log in and participate with those in class. For example, the whole class could be in a Webex room to hear a lecture, and/or we know some teachers are exploring options to live stream their lesson. One thing we know for sure is that any efforts that require a lot of specialized equipment or large amounts of bandwidth will likely be difficult to accomplish on most of our campuses. — July 6, 2020

If I test positive for COVID-19 and have to take leave, do I have to provide lesson plans?

Teachers are required to provide lesson plans for the first five (5) days of any leave. — Aug. 4, 2020

The MOU states that “teachers’ privacy will be protected while engaging remotely with students” and that the “recording of teachers without their permission is prohibited.” Does this mean that I can refuse to engage in the delivery of curriculum via video conference or any video platform because I don’t want to risk being recorded?

No. The intention of this provision is to ensure that the employer protects teachers’ privacy and does not engage in recording without a teacher’s knowledge during any of their remote engagement with students. If there are concerns regarding the possibility of a student recording a teacher during distance learning, that should be addressed via the school’s acceptable use policy and the administration should address the situation via student discipline plans. — Aug. 4, 2020

What about students with special needs?

Students with special needs are being given priority for in-person learning opportunities when schools reopen. In addition, schools will have to conduct Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings to determine each student's need to compensate for loss of skills that resulted from the closure of our school facilities. Teachers who are care coordinators should be provided at least three (3) hours of time in first quarter to address any compensatory services needed. Visit the HIDOE’s page for more information regarding students with special needs. — July 2, 2020

What about Extended School Year (ESY)? Should I work?

ESY is not work that falls within our bargaining unit and it is considered hourly or casual employment. Teachers should discuss with their supervisor if they have concerns working ESY. — March 24, 2020

Will there be a specific class size limit for school year 2020-21?

There are no specific class size limits related to COVID-19 and the reopening of school year 2020-21. Contract provisions related to class size (Article VI, A.) are still in effect. — July 2, 2020

What is allowed for configuration of student desks for proper physical distancing? How should I be measuring?

According to our agreement with the state of Hawaii, schools "shall work to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread... by maintaining six (6) feet or two arms' length (whichever is longer) of separation between and among students and staff members... whenever possible.” HSTA is aware that despite the agreement, on July 2, the HIDOE put out health and safety guidance that conflicts with the contract language.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that schools “space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible” to reduce risk. The CDC characterizes students who are “not spaced apart” as being at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19.

On July 13, the HSTA reached an agreement with the superintendent on an exceptions process for configuration of meeting spacings, including classrooms. The agreement required schools to submit a waiver if there is a configuration of a mdistance of less than six (6) feet of separation between student seats. Thus, measurements should be between seats for consistency as tables may vary in size.

If your school is planning their opening with desks configured at less than six feet, please have your HSTA school level leaders contact your UniServ Director so we can follow up and address this. — Aug. 4, 2020

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Questions relating to furloughs and pay cuts

Will there be furloughs or pay cuts?

Up until recently, we had no indication that furloughs or pay cuts were planned. At a news conference on March 15, Gov. David Ige said he was “absolutely not” considering state employee furloughs. However, HSTA was informed by the governor’s administration on April 14 that he is looking at 20-percent cuts in wages for most state employees and 10-percent cuts from first responders. We are actively working to get more details and will inform you of the latest developments as soon as we can. — April 15, 2020

Who will be affected and how?

HSTA was told that the governor wants to implement cuts for public employees, including educators and first responders. These cuts could occur as early as May 1. We were not given any formal proposal, and it is unclear if the governor intends to implement these cuts as furloughs or across-the-board salary decreases. However, on April 15, the governor in a press conference stated that while initial conversations have taken place, “no decisions have been made yet. These discussions are ongoing and we will keep you informed and updated on what this means for you in the days to come.” Then during a press conference on April 17, the governor said, “We are looking at all options. It is possible that there would be no salary cuts at all, if there is access to federal funds that would allow to not have salary cuts.”  — April 17, 2020

Does the governor have the power to do this? What about our bargaining rights?

Our current contract, which sets our rate of salary, does not expire until June 30, 2021. Any change in that salary requires negotiations. However, it would seem that the governor may be threatening to implement these cuts without negotiation through his emergency proclamation. "Within that emergency powers, I do have authority to enact many different actions in order to continue the operations of the state in a meaningful way," Ige said in a news conference on April 15. — April 15, 2020

What is HSTA doing to protect our educators from these cuts?

HSTA and other public sector unions have made it clear to the governor that these cuts will exacerbate our weakening economy, hurt government employees, and potentially prolong this crisis. We stand united and will not accept the governor’s plan without exploring every last alternative to keep these harmful cuts from happening. An important next step is to continue to advocate for more funding from the federal government. We are asking members and supporters to reach out to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. — April 15, 2020

Does the state have other options besides cutting salaries?

We believe there are other options. Hawaii has access to additional resources. At the close of last fiscal year, Hawaii had a cash surplus and rainy day fund totaling more than $1 billion. Congress recently appropriated $863 million to our state government with hundreds of millions more for our counties as part of a $2 trillion stimulus package—and lawmakers are discussing additional stimulus funding.

State lawmakers also oppose salary cuts. Senate President Ron Kouchi (D, Kauai, Niihau) and House Speaker Scott Saiki (D, McCully, Kakaako, Downtown) issued the following statement:

“Although Governor Ige has the unilateral authority to impose furloughs and salary cuts, we do not agree with such action. We urge the Governor to obtain better data and analysis before he makes this decision. We also urge him to act on all alternatives, just as the National Governors Association did when it called on Congress four days ago to provide an additional $500 billion to the 50 states to stabilize state budgets due to tax revenue shortfalls.

Although we disagree with Governor Ige's proposal, the Legislature will work with him to assess and pursue all options.”

Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) issued the following statement:

Pay cuts by the Governor is a bad idea and contrary to the spirit of the Payroll Protection Act to keep our employees whole.

During family or corporate emergencies, borrowing money is the way to go. Hawaii has millions in special funds squirreled away in the Executive Branch—we could borrow from them in the next few months.

Pay cuts to teachers and first responders, including our healthcare workers, is cruel and unusual punishment. If Gov inflicts this on the people of Hawaii, they should be exempt and without furloughs.

— April 15, 2020

Since so many people are being laid off, isn’t a 20-percent cut better than unemployment?

Cutting salaries does not end the economic crisis, and can exacerbate the downturn of Hawaii’s economy. This is why the federal government passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill and are considering further stimulus bills. NEA and HSTA are advocating on a state and federal level to support families in need and others that are suffering because of this crisis. — April 15, 2020

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