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Know Your Rights: COVID-19 and personal protective equipment (PPE)

The HIDOE has an obligation to provide a safe, healthy work environment

Members should know their contractual rights when it comes to addressing a safe and healthy work environment, especially during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The following guidance is provided as a member resource highlighting the topic of personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or face coverings. This guidance should not be considered exhaustive. Members with additional questions or concerns about PPE use on their campus or worksite should contact their HSTA leaders on campus or their UniServ Director.

I work with medically fragile children in a fully self-contained (FSC) classroom. Will I be provided the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to work in close quarters with those students?

Yes, it should be provided. The state has provided extensive PPE to both Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) and public charter schools. Per memos (see below) and a report by Assistant Superintendent Randall Tanaka at the Hawaii State Board of Education meeting on Aug. 20, PPE should include cloth face masks for every employee and additional PPE for those who work in closer contact with others and need additional PPE, such as surgical masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns. In addition, our memorandum of understanding (MOU), section 1.c.iii, lines 110–112, page 5 outlines your right to additional PPE: “Employees whose assignment places them at greater risk for exposure to COVID-19 will be provided appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., surgical mask, face shield, and gloves) at no additional cost.” If you do not have adequate supplies, especially if you are working in person with students, please ask for them. If they are denied, please contact your UniServ Director. — Aug. 28, 2020

Related HIDOE memos:

Should I require students to wear a mask in my classroom as part of my classroom rules? Do I have to wear a mask or face covering? I don't want to and/or I have a medical condition.

As a result of recent decisions by the BOE, you must wear a mask and require students to wear a mask. On Thursday, July 30, the board passed a motion that requires everyone on a public school campus to wear a face mask, or face shield if a medical condition prevents the extended use of a face mask. In addition, the board directed the superintendent to come up with a list of specific exceptions to the use of face masks.

Previous agreements with HSTA allowed teachers to control this requirement as part of their classroom rules. The intention of the agreement was to make sure principals could not force teachers to allow students to remove their face coverings. The BOE’s decision supersedes this flexibility, and requires everyone to wear a mask at all times on campus unless specific exceptions are met.

In addition, the board directed the superintendent to come up with a list of specific exceptions to the use of face masks. The HIDOE has verbally told HSTA that it expects exceptions for medical purposes to be documented with a note from the individual’s medical provider, so teachers should expect to have to provide a note. Their students should also need to provide a similar documentation. We have asked for this information in writing.  

HSTA supports this stronger policy and will provide more information on any written exception process as it becomes available. Please note that the HIDOE posted a new version of its Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan Health and Safety Handbook on Aug. 19, 2020. — Aug. 28, 2020

Will teachers have to provide masks for students?

No. The recent contractual agreement requires the employer to provide a supply of masks for teachers to give to students should they not have one available. See our MOU, section 1.c.iv, line 113, page 5: “Each teacher may, upon request, be provided a face shield and an adequate supply of face coverings for students.” — July 2, 2020

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