Tuesday, August 18, 2020

HSTA identifies holes in latest order, calls for key actions to keep schools, communities safe

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said these restrictions leave ‘very important decisions unresolved.’

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Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Tuesday “targeted restrictions” to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on Oahu.

Oahu’s newest order, “Act Now Honolulu—No Social Gatherings,” restricts both indoor and outdoor gatherings to no more than five people for 28 days.

Employers are also urged to reduce their numbers of on-site employees by implementing telework or staggered work schedules. “If you can work from home, we want you to work from home,” Caldwell said.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said these restrictions leave “very important decisions unresolved. There are still no metrics from the Department of Health and Department of Education on the requirements for safely reopening schools or when they should close. We are also concerned with the governor’s exceptions to our public school system. In order to reduce transmission, teachers should be allowed to work from home and no students should be coming on campus. Otherwise, he leaves gaping holes in these restrictions.”

The HSTA has been advocating for 100-percent distance learning for all students across the state through at least the first quarter to minimize the potential for the coronavirus to spread through school populations.

After HSTA raised public concerns, many schools across the state made eleventh-hour decisions to forgo face-to-face meetings to kick off the school year, opting for more limited grab-and-go distance learning material pickup operations this week.

But some still welcomed students on campuses for hours Monday and Tuesday, posing serious health and safety risks to their school’s community and the overall public. Rosenlee said some schools saw hundreds of students on their campuses with plans to continue through Thursday.

“I am terrified that the schools that were open this week, you’re going to see an explosion of cases,” Rosenlee said at a news conference hosted by HSTA Tuesday afternoon.

School administrators, educators, and staff have been working on-campus since June 26. Since then, the HSTA has received reports of at least 23 schools with COVID-19 cases involving a school employee or student or, in one case, a campus visitor.

Special education students cannot be left out

Despite the threat of COVID-19, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is still allowing vulnerable students on campus.

The HIDOE defines vulnerable students as special education students, English language learners, homeless students, and disadvantaged students, which account for 57 percent of all students. “How is this going to happen in our classes and be less than five people?” Rosenlee asked. “Can we really claim that we are doing distance learning for our schools if this many students can potentially be on campus?”

The employer says fully self-contained (FSC) students with special needs, require face-to-face instruction. Yet many FSC teachers across the state say they are deeply concerned about having a large number of adults and children confined to a single classroom. FSC students are often in the same room with teachers, educational assistants, nurses, and other staff, which creates unsafe conditions that invite COVID-19 to spread.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate, and students with special needs are equally at risk for exposure and transmission as regular education students. In these unprecedented circumstances, we cannot leave them, and the educators who serve them, out to dry,” Rosenlee said.

Classroom teachers must be allowed the option to telework

The HIDOE expects all classroom teachers to report to campus, even when schools are in distance-learning mode. While HSTA supports teachers’ ability to utilize their classrooms, it should not be a requirement. Rosenlee says many requests to telework have been denied by principals and complex area superintendents.

“This must change immediately. Teachers who wish to telework must be able to do so in order to properly reduce the number of individuals on a single campus,” Rosenlee said.

“It is the Wild West out there when it comes to what principals are doing,” Rosenlee added. “It shouldn’t be left up to one principal to dictate that much power over their students and the teachers. We’re hoping to see some leadership, and we’re still hoping to see it. Right now it’s just not safe, and they’re continuing these unsafe situations.”

No clear metrics available for how schools should reopen

On Tuesday, Hawaii State Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson admitted the state had no clear metrics for how Hawaii schools should reopen and will likely lean heavily on guidance provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We are looking to put together policies and guidance in collaboration with DOE to make sure there is clear understandings of what people should be doing when,” Anderson said. “I think there's a lot more work to be done to be sure that when classes resume, that is when class teaching begins again, that we have good guidance available for the teachers, faculty, staff, parents, and students, from the time they leave their home til the time they get to school. We don’t have that at this point.”

Anderson said Tuesday he plans to put together an ad hoc team to work with the HIDOE on developing a plan. Rosenlee pointed out this was the same promise Anderson made to state senators last month—a promise he has seemingly made little progress on.

“They still haven’t done it a month later, even after our schools have opened. It is now too late,” Rosenlee said. “I cannot believe the idea that we’re just going to wing it when it comes to the health and safety of our teachers and our students. This should have been out already.”

Rosenlee also pointed out that even with CDC guidance, across the country “we have not seen a successful model of schools being able to reopen during this pandemic. So right now, we have to seriously consider if our schools are safe for our students to open, and right now, we do not believe so.”

The HSTA is still pursuing legal action, which includes filing a prohibited practice complaint and petition for declaratory order and injunctive relief with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. On Monday, the HSTA filed a class grievance to ensure health and safety are at the forefront of all decision-making for our schools.

What you can do to help

The Hawaii State Board of Education meets this Thursday, Aug. 20, at 1:30 p.m. to discuss school reopening, with oral testimony beginning by no later than 2:15 p.m. We ask that you email testimony.BOE@boe.hawaii.gov by noon on Wednesday, Aug. 19, to ensure our schools are safe for our keiki and our educators.

Please ask the board to take action on the following items:

  • Ensure 100-percent distance learning for all students across the state, including those in special education, until at least the end of the first quarter.
  • Require the DOH and HIDOE to provide clear metrics on when school campuses are safe for students’ return. Many states and cities have specific triggers already in place for when schools should be open or closed based on COVID-10 cases, but Hawaii does not.
  • Guarantee that the HIDOE honors HSTA’s contract by allowing teachers to work from home (telework) for as long as distance learning remains in effect.

Be sure to share your personal perspective on why fully reopening schools for face-to-face instruction without clear guidance is reckless and dangerous. If you are a classroom teacher who wishes to work remotely, please explain why and how you are able to fully teach from home. If you are a special education teacher who is apprehensive of face-to-face instruction, explain your circumstances and why you feel this way.

Include the word “Testimony” in the subject line and, at the top of the email, explain that you are testifying on item V. A. Update on implementation of Board Resolution adopted on June 18, 2020, directing the Department of Education to prepare for the reopening of public schools for the 2020-2021 school year amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, focusing on concerns regarding: health and safety, distance learning, personnel, food service, student transportation, reconciling multiple guidance documents and collective bargaining agreements, and communication.

Please note that submitted BOE testimony is posted online for the public to see, so please be cognizant of what you include in your submission.

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