Sister, daughter of school clerk who died of COVID-19 make case for telework

Dayna Inouye, Angie Choi worked at Dole Middle School; Cameron Inouye-Ng teaches at Makalapa Elementary

Angie Choi, a school counselor at Dole Middle School, submitted testimony to the Hawaii State Board of Education Wednesday asking them on behalf of her late sister to assure that educators can telework during the pandemic.

Her sister, Dayna Inouye, 49, a school clerk at Dole Middle, died last Wednesday of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Choi said.

Choi said they both have worked at Dole Middle for five years and before that, they worked together at Niu Valley Middle School.

“We were extremely close,” Choi told the Hawaii State Teachers Association in an interview. Choi is a member of HSTA.

“She would greet staff and students at the school with a smile that made you feel welcome,” Choi said. “She was very calm and happy-go-lucky.”

Choi remembered her sister’s small, very thoughtful gestures, like putting out candies by the school check-in area for her colleagues.

Inouye leaves behind three daughters and her partner of 27 years.

Choi wrote in testimony before the Hawaii State Board of Education’s general meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon:

“I would like to speak on behalf of my sister, to have us, educators, faculty, and staff members, to consider teleworking for the safety of employees, students, parents, the community, everyone!”

While some principals are approving telework for educators, others are not, and some complex area superintendents who oversee principals are rejecting telework requests, even for teachers who have 100 percent of their students in distance learning mode.

“There is no doubt in my mind that my sister caught COVID from work,” Choi wrote, noting the high level of cases in the Kalihi community.

She said one of her sister’s front office coworkers came to work sick with COVID-19.

Choi wrote: 

“From what I recall from my sister, a worker came to work sick, and 2 days later, Friday night, August 28th, she started feeling symptoms like body aches and slight fever. Dayna and the office staff took the Covid testing that weekend...

She was concerned that she was feeling sick and did not get her results within the 3-5 days as others were.  Dayna looked up the website daily, to finally find out she was positive on Friday, September 4th, 6:30am (she texted me at that time).”

Choi said the Hawaii State Department of Health was slow to respond to the outbreak, which affected at least four staff and a student at Dole Middle. State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said DOH contact tracers took days to respond to the Dole cases.

Choi wrote in her testimony:

“I can only imagine the worry she had when she received her positive results. No DOH called to inform, nor any tracing.

I am not here to place blame on anyone. I am pleading for some changes to be certain there will NOT be any other Covid death statistics on school campus:

1. I ask that there be teleworking, where there is less exposure. Most teachers and staff can work from home, still teaching our students in the safety of our homes.

2. I need to shout out that employees need to, MUST stay home if feeling sick (even slight sniffles or mild fever). I understand some people may feel they cannot afford to take off work, or think, ‘nah it's just allergies,’ but please stay home!  This virus is vicious and it attacks fast and hard!

3. If you know someone went home sick, start evacuating the location right then and there, have the people near the location telework and get tested, and clean the area. Do not wait for DOH or the positive result to then say, ‘let's evacuate and clean.' Be proactive!”

Inouye’s daughter, Cameron Inouye-Ng, teaches fifth grade at Makalapa Elementary and is an HSTA member. She sent the following to HSTA:

“My name is Cameron Inouye-Ng and I am the daughter of Dayna Inouye, the office clerk from Dole Middle School who died from COVID-19. My mother was very prepared for this pandemic, she bought everything that we needed for us to be safe. She was prepared as anyone could be. I know this will be difficult to prove, but there is no doubt in my mind that my mom caught Covid from work. She was the first person who people saw when they walk into the office and most times, she would be the one to assist whoever came into the office. Sometimes these people who not wear masks or wore their masks correctly which put my mom at a risk.

As a teacher, I was working from home due to my mom’s positive test results. I was comfortable teaching from home since I felt safe. I knew that I didn’t have to interact with anyone else who might have been asymptomatic. Thinking about returning to campus in a few weeks scares me knowing that someone there might be feeling sick and could be asymptomatic. What if I were to get sick? What would happen to my family again? What would happen to my coworkers? What would happen to students if they are back in the classroom? I am requesting that teachers can telework for their safety and well-being during this tough time. Thank you.”

In written testimony ahead of the BOE’s meeting, nearly 200 additional HSTA members cited flawed HIDOE policies and procedures in response to COVID-19.

For the first time, HSTA compiled and submitted testimony—109 pages worth—on behalf of members who wished to stay anonymous so they could speak freely about the many problems they encounter without fear of retaliation. View their testimony here.

In light of these concerns and more, the HSTA Board of Directors overwhelmingly voted to support Hawaii’s public schools to be in 100-percent distance learning mode for all students until at least the beginning of the second semester of this school year.

You can listen to the BOE virtual meeting Thursday via Webex here. HSTA will also live stream the meeting on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, however, the first portion will be conducted in executive session until about 2:15 p.m.

Featured and above photos provided by Angie Choi of Choi, left, and Dayna Inouye.

Photo provided by Cameron Inouye-Ng of Dayna Inouye, left, and Inouye-Ng.

Author: Keoki Kerr