Thursday, July 2, 2020
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Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said Thursday that the Hawaii State Department of Education’s policy allowing students’ desks to be as close as three feet to each other in classrooms when school resumes in August is “ludicrous and dangerous and puts our keiki, their families and our teachers at risk.”
In remarks to the media Thursday and in its “Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan,” the HIDOE reiterated its position that students’ desks can be three feet apart as long as students face the same direction. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told a Hawaii News Now reporter Thursday that schools “could modify down to three feet of spacing as long as students are facing forward.”
Rosenlee said this policy will put students and staff in danger and “only ensure Hawaii will have to close our schools again, and go back to a 100-percent virtual model.”
HSTA Secretary-Treasurer Logan Okita, a first-grade teacher at Nimitz Elementary, said she will set up her classroom to have six feet of space between each student.
“As first graders, they have difficulty sitting for long periods of time. Since they will likely not sit facing forward for a long time, three feet is not enough space in order to keep them safe,” Okita said. “I can’t think of any age group that would sit facing forward for an entire period without having an urge to lean over and tap a peer, or turning in their seat to say speak to someone.
“For the safety of my students, their families and my own family, I implore the DOE to be firm and consistent in their guidance that we will practice physical distancing of six feet whenever possible, even in the classroom,” Okita added.
Okita and Rosenlee spoke Thursday at an HSTA news conference that was streamed live on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The HSTA is asking every parent or guardian, grandparent, student, and teacher to email the Board of Education before the board’s next general meeting on Thursday, July 9, to demand that the board mandate that classrooms be configured with six feet between student desks.
Email your testimony by noon on Wednesday, July 8, to testimony.BOE@boe.hawaii.gov, with the word “Testimony” in the subject line. At the top of the email, explain that you are testifying on Discussion Item VI(A): Presentation on Department of Education's comprehensive plan for reopening schools plan for the 2020-2021 School Year. Please include your name, school that your children attend or your school or workplace if you’re an educator.
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.
That is why the HSTA advocated for and agreed upon the following language in a memorandum of understanding just signed by both the HSTA and the state on Saturday: “Schools and worksites shall work to minimize the risk of COVID-19 by “maintaining six (6) feet or two (2) arms’ length (whichever is longer) of separation between and among students and staff members in meeting spaces and exterior school grounds whenever possible.”
“Returning to a three-foot policy after coming to an agreement with HSTA on a six-foot standard is disingenuous and violates the resolution passed by the Board of Education that claims the ‘health and safety of students and staff is the priority and thoughtful consideration of the Board’s guiding principles of Giving Hope, Acting with Kindness, and Working toward Togetherness are the fundamental drivers to reopen schools,’” Rosenlee said. “This is not making the health and safety of students and staff the priority, and by mandating these policies in opposition to HSTA’s agreement, the state is working without hope, without kindness and definitely working without togetherness.”
On Wednesday, the University of Hawaii announced its reopening plans, which require six feet of social distancing in university classrooms and facilities.
“Why is six feet distancing required for a college freshman, but three feet is okay for a high school senior? Why is six feet required at Costco and at restaurants, but for public school teachers and students, it is only three feet? This is not okay,” Rosenlee said. “The same rules that apply to the public should be followed in our schools.”
New York City schools have already seen 74 staff die because of COVID-19.
“The teachers of HSTA fully understand the benefit of schooling. That is why we became teachers,” Rosenlee said. However, he added, “teachers are not sacrificial lambs in the desire to open our schools.”
HSTA research shows that 30 to 40 percent of our educators are at high risk for the coronavirus, based on age and other health factors.
“When teachers say we are willing to do anything for our students, that does not mean they are willing to die. Every precaution must be taken to ensure the health and safety of our keiki and our teachers,” Rosenlee said.
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