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HSTA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee holds first HSTA CARES listening session

New initiative aims to create schools and communities that are safe, inclusive, and equitable​ for all keiki

On Wednesday, June 24, more than 60 Hawaii State Teachers Association members joined HSTA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee (HCR) for its inaugural event under HSTA CARES (Culture, Advocacy, Respect, Equity, Support​).

HSTA CARES represents the committee’s new initiative to integrate social justice principles into education to create schools and communities that are safe, inclusive, and equitable​ for all keiki.

The listening session, which was conducted over Zoom and facilitated by HCR chairs from across the state, allowed HSTA members to reflect and share their thoughts on systemic racism in Hawaii, and generate ideas for mindful change.

HCR State Chair Jodi Kunimitsu, a Maui High math teacher, said she was pleased to see such strong engagement among fellow members. 

“I am glad people felt comfortable sharing their stories and ideas and that everyone was very respectful throughout the session,” she said. “Although people had many different ideas about how to achieve racial justice in schools, I think it is safe to say mostly all of the participants want to see more done in our schools to educate and support our students when it comes to issues around race.”

Kauai Chapter President Caroline Freudig, who teaches at Kalaheo Elementary, called the session a positive experience. “Teachers in our breakout appreciated the space with colleagues to share thoughts and ideas around this topic,” she said. “I’m excited that CARES is a dedicated way to support educators in having discussions around delicate topics that sometimes make people uncomfortable.”

Elizabeth Sharrock, HCR Hilo Chapter chair and Keaau Middle teacher, said, “What resonated with me is teachers' call for more freedom to instruct about racism in class without the worry of retaliation from parents or administration. It is a sensitive topic, yes. However, it is a civil rights issue and students should have access to the history of the power dynamics which run our country.”

Members also suggested targeted discussions in schools and with political leaders, and support for key legislative bills as actionable next steps. Sharrock noted the committee is planning to work with HSTA’s Government Relations (GR) Committee “to be invited to spaces in which we can emphasize our concerns with the politicians in power.”

HSTA CARES had been months in the making, but was fast-tracked in light of recent events. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor prompted the committee to issue a statement and call to action against systemic racism, oppression, and violence.

HCR Maui Chapter Chair Dana Gorelangton Turnbull, a teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina, said future HSTA CARES sessions will “lead us to positive steps in the right direction, and help to guide teachers (myself included) to best and innovative practices in teaching social justice and human rights issues.”

On Thursday, July 23, from 4 to 5 p.m., HCR is partnering with HSTA’s new educator program and the Hawaii State Department of Education’s Office of Hawaiian Education (OHE) on a virtual Office Hours session titled, ʻĀina Aloha: Rooting content to our beloved Hawaiʻi during COVID-19. This session, presented by OHE educational specialist Kuʻulei Makua, explores ʻĀina Aloha and how we might root our content to Hawaiʻi, strengthening our HĀ, even as we face new models of hybrid learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here for more information and to register.

Meanwhile, HCR continues to review all feedback and identify further actions, which members promise will include broader involvement to foster deeper collaboration and community support.

Kunimitsu said, “We want to consistently provide more opportunities for our HSTA members, education stakeholders, and the general public to get involved with racial and social justice activities. Widespread awareness and participation are key to ensuring successful change throughout our communities and for our keiki.”

Featured photo: HCR’s new HSTA CARES logo was designed by Alika Masei, HCR Leeward Chapter chair and Waianae Intermediate science teacher.

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