Honolulu mayor: ‘If I had my way, I’d close all schools for two weeks’

Caldwell disagrees with Ige’s decision to exempt public schools from stay-at-home order

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Wednesday that he wanted to include public schools in the “stay-at-home, work-at-home” order that goes into effect on Oahu at midnight, but Gov. David Ige asked that public schools and University of Hawaii campuses remain open. 

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Caldwell said, “If I had it my way, I’d close all schools for two weeks. People stay at home, work at home, learn at home as much as possible. But we don’t live in the perfect, we live in the good. And I think what we’re doing is good and is going to make a difference.”

“I would have shut all schools, both public and private. All private schools are shut, will be shut effective midnight tonight,” Caldwell added.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee responded, “This is shibai and outrageous! If private school teachers are mandated to telework, and private school students are mandated to learn from home, then our public school teachers and students should not be treated differently. The governor should stop discriminating against our public school students and teachers and remove the barriers which are preventing our teachers from being able to telework and utilize 100% distance learning for all students.” 

When a reporter asked Caldwell Wednesday if students will be allowed on private school campuses, he said, “We really want people to stay at home, work at home, do distance learning from home and not being on campus. Essential workers are allowed on a campus to keep things functioning, but students should not be on campus to do school work during this period of time. They should do it long distance, over the internet and other ways.”

Wednesday afternoon, Ige approved Caldwell’s Emergency Order No. 2020-25, requiring individuals on Oʻahu to stay at home and work from home for two weeks. Exceptions include certain essential activities, and work that provides essential business and government services, or performs essential public infrastructure construction, including housing. For a list of essential businesses and services, go to Section 2F of Stay at Home Order.

The order goes into effect at 12 a.m. on Aug. 27 and continues through Sept. 9.

In an apparent change from what was announced at a news conference Tuesday, the City and County of Honolulu’s “stay-at-home, work-at-home” order allows private educational institutions to operate as essential functions, as long as they (1) comply with Social Distancing Requirements to the extent applicable and reasonably possible; (2) comply with the face covering requirements; and (3) implement distance learning to the greatest extent possible.

The Department of Education and the UH Systems will determine what is necessary, appropriate and safe with respect to in-person instruction at the public schools and UH campuses, the governor's office announced Wednesday afternoon.

All educational institutions are encouraged to utilize distance learning as much as possible, a governor's office news release said.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association believes teachers statewide should have the option to telework from home. 

Rosenlee said, “Having more employees work from home, if that is their preference and especially those who are not conducting in-person learning with students, will protect the health and safety of everyone on campus and beyond. Telework reduces the number of people at a worksite at any given time, further mitigating the risk of further spread of COVID-19.”

At an Aug. 20 Board of Education meeting, Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said, "We (DOE) have a distance work approach and policy that allows for supervisors to make that decision." The HSTA has heard from teachers that some schools and complex areas are allowing teachers to telework and others are not.

“The HSTA realizes some of our members prefer to teach remotely from their classrooms, not from home, and we support teachers having a choice. But we know others want the option to teach from home, reducing their exposure to others outside their household at a time when business and government are encouraging people to work remotely whenever possible,” Rosenlee said.

“As we’ve said for several weeks now, we think the safest course of action is to continue distance learning for all students through the end of the first quarter on Oct. 2, out of an abundance of caution,” Rosenlee added. The Hawaii Department of Education tentatively plans to bring all students back to campuses on Sept. 14.


Watch the archived news conference below.

Author: Keoki Kerr