Senators express concern about schools reopening Aug. 4

HSTA seeks answers to critical questions from HIDOE

The coronavirus has created an ever-changing situation within our communities, and significant stress and fear for our students, parents and guardians, as well as all school staff.

While the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) believes in the importance of ensuring students are provided instructional services in school year 2020–21, it should not be at the cost of a safe educational environment.

On Thursday, July 16, the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 held a hearing to discuss SY2020–21 and the reopening of school campuses. The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE), Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Department of Health (DOH) Director Bruce Anderson, and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park provided information and answered senators’ questions.

Related Link: Watch a recording of the meeting here (ʻŌlelo Community Media)

The discussion further alarmed the HSTA and its members, and raised questions about whether the state of Hawaii is ready to safely reopen buildings to students while providing adequate and quality distance learning in SY2020–21.

Anderson told lawmakers Thursday that Gov. David Ige has asked him to convene a panel of experts to come up with guidelines showing when it would be necessary to delay reopening schools, with a little more than three weeks before students are supposed to return to class.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said, “It is scary that the state plans to open schools in a few weeks, but there hasn’t been a meeting to determine the guidelines of what happens when a student, staff member or a family member becomes infected. These procedures should have already been determined and shared with educators, parents and students. The lack of planning and procedures really begs the question of whether the DOE is adequately prepared to safely open schools on Aug. 4?” 

While the HSTA has continued to work in good faith with the state, HIDOE, and public charter schools throughout the summer, serious concerns and unanswered questions remain, which we are pursuing with the department at the highest levels. We would like to know:

  1. When will the state Department of Health provide written guidance on the reopening of school buildings?  
  2. What are the clear protocols for requesting and receiving approvals for an exception to wearing face coverings at schools? HSTA believes everyone must be required to wear face coverings at schools, especially within six feet of each other. 
  3. What happens to the students and adults on a school campus if a student, teacher, other school employee, and or one of their household members test positive for COVID-19?
  4. What standard practices and additional personal protective equipment (PPE) methods should be followed by employees who need to get within six feet of others, especially students who are medically fragile and/or very young?
  5. How will schools determine that newly enrolled students, especially those from military households, followed 14 days of proper self-isolation upon arrival in Hawaii?
  6. When a school needs to shut down due to a COVID-19 infection, how will schools move to 100 percent distance learning learning environment, when will teachers be trained?    

We know this is an unsettling time with a lot of unknowns. We are continuing to advocate for the safety of our members and the keiki we serve. As soon as we know more, we will give you as much information as possible, as we have throughout this crisis. Please follow our social media and keep an eye on your emails for the latest developments.

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