HSTA asks for detailed answers about school reopening

The union delivered a 2-page list of questions to the HIDOE on May 19

Despite speculation and recent media reports that caused confusion, the Hawaii State Teachers Association has confirmed with the Hawaii State Department of Education that the department is still planning exactly how instruction will be delivered next school year. No decision has been made.

We also confirmed Wednesday, June 3, that the HIDOE is considering mixed modes of instruction and will not limit instruction to one mode for all students (e.g., all secondary students will be online).

To reiterate, as of Wednesday, June 3, no decisions regarding the mode of instruction have been decided for school year 2020–21. The HIDOE published a one-page guidance document that was not shared in advance with HSTA, and we have a number of questions and concerns regarding what is outlined. Please note, any changes in working conditions will require impact bargaining.

After HSTA sent a demand for impact bargaining on May 19, HIDOE responded in a letter received June 2. In it, the department said it would continue to engage in good-faith impact bargaining with our Association.

Since late April, HSTA has repeatedly asked the HIDOE what model(s) will be used to reopen public schools in school year 2020–21. We have also asked how teachers and students will be supported with training and resources as part of any distance learning plan.

The HSTA anticipates conversations with HIDOE in the next few weeks to discuss reopening. We will let you know when we have more information.

Hawaii schools do not have enough classroom space and/or teachers to facilitate the smaller face-to-face classroom numbers social distancing required during the COVID-19 pandemic. HSTA believes schools cannot open as normal for school year 2020–21 without a significant impact on the school day/week reporting structure. Schools may need to stagger days and or times students attend in person.

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has spoken to the media about some broad school reopening concepts, saying she expects the following:

  • 180 student days of instruction,
  • a need for blended learning (both face-to-face and distance),
  • a need for addressing families that want to keep their students home and do full distance learning, and
  • a need for a staggered start to the year for different student-types.

Last month, the HSTA submitted a formal notice to HIDOE for impact bargaining. We also transmitted a two-page document to the HIDOE on May 19 with a lengthy list of health and safety issues that we believe need to be addressed and possibly bargained before school reopens.

The issues include:

General safety protocols 

  • Vetting procedures for the health status of employees and students
  • Procedures for handling students and employees who come to work sick and or become sick at school
  • Will there be any expectations of required testing of employees or students?
  • How will health rooms be handled? How will health aides or school health nurses be used?
  • How will any outbreak in a school community be handled, including notification and building deep cleaning?
  • How will schools monitor who is or is not on their campuses and/or who is allowed on campuses?
  • Will staff and students will be required to wear masks?
  • Will masks be required at all times or only while in proximity to others?
  • What about requirements for mask-wearing by non-school employees (contractors) as well as parents and other visitors? 
  • Will any staff be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)?
  • Will masks and/or PPE be provided by HIDOE?
  • What physical barriers and controls will be put in place (e.g., plexiglass and protocols for handling ventilation and air conditioning systems)?
  • How will training and in-service for health and safety protocols and policies occur?

Social distancing

  • What social distancing rules will be required (e.g., maximum class sizes, and distancing of no less than six feet between people)?
  • What about spacing between workstations, in office areas, workrooms, and classrooms?
  • Will there be a limit and/or how will schools manage traffic in common areas such as an office, library, cafeteria, workrooms, etc.? 

Disinfecting and sanitizing

  • What will be provided to employees for cleaning (e.g., wipes and hand sanitizer)?
  • What general practices will be put in place (e.g., frequently required hand washing, hand sanitization, and banning the use of water fountains)?
  • What will the school and worksite cleaning protocol be—what, who, when, frequency, and where?
  • How frequently will used surfaces and common areas be cleaned (e.g., railings, doorknobs, bathrooms, workrooms, offices, etc.)?

Travel restrictions

  • Will there be modifications to any teachers who travel for work?
  • Will field trips be allowed and or restricted? 
  • Will there be restrictions on employees who travel out of state/off-island?

Other issues

  • How will substitutes (for teachers, EAs, et al.) be handled? 
  • How will new hires be handled? 
  • Will teachers be able to continue telework options? 
  • How will we address employees and students with health concerns?
  • How will we address the impact of blended learning programs on students and teachers who have small and/or school-aged children?

In the coming weeks, HSTA anticipates that we will engage in impact bargaining with the HIDOE on a wide variety of topics related to campuses reopening to face-to-face instruction, possible staggered schedule models, and health and safety. We will keep members updated throughout the summer and when agreements are reached, we will notify members as soon as possible.

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Author: Keoki Kerr