Star-Advertiser editorial calls on HIDOE to delay bringing students back to school

The newspaper says there are 'valid questions about feasibility' of reopening schools

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Wednesday called on the Hawaii Department of Education to delay bringing students back to public school campuses because of COVID-19, one day after the Hawaii State Teachers Association made the same request at a news conference with front-line educators.

With educators supposed to report to work just one week away on July 29 and students scheduled to return on Aug. 4, the newspaper’s lead editorial Wednesday said, “Some elements in the back-to-school plan are in need of more clarity and others are prompting valid questions about feasibility. Given these concerns, state officials should opt to delay the Aug. 4 start for students by up to a week, while tasking school facilities to hammer out, absorb and train up on more-through plans.”

“The HSTA is seeking detailed answers to some basic questions such as: What happens on a campus if a student, teacher, school employee—or someone's household member—tests positive for the coronavirus? And if a school shuts down due to virus infection, how will educators move to full-time distance learning?” the newspaper wrote.

“Given the expected surfacing of at least some COVID-19 cases, the DOE, in close coordination with the state Health Department, must map out a guidance plan and share it robustly with all schools, and the public. In this unsettling time of pandemic there are many unknowns. Safety cannot be guaranteed, but thoughtful risk management, well communicated, can establish the balance needed for schools to move forward,” the Star-Advertiser editorial continued.

Read the full editorial here

Health director: We can't support schools reopening if they’re not 100-percent ready

State Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson told Hawaii Public Radio Monday that schools should only reopen if they feel prepared.

“If the schools aren't 100-percent ready to open by Aug. 4, we can't support that opening. The schools have to be ready, disease levels got to be down to a point acceptable before we can support that,” Anderson told HPR.

“If they're not ready then there's only three options. I think they'll either have to push back the start date for the entire system or they could adjust it by complex area. Each area may be ready at different times and be in a different state of readiness. They may be able to open schools on a school-by-school basis as each school becomes ready. It’s really up to DOE how to best open the schools,” Anderson told the radio station. 

He said the health department is still working on determining the number of COVID-19 cases that would trigger schools to shut down. Those numbers are expected this week, HPR reported.

A spokesperson from the HIDOE told Hawaii Public Radio that as of now, schools will still reopen on Aug. 4, but the department is willing to revise the plan should the situation call for it.

LG raises concerns about students returning to class; doubts effectiveness of ‘ohana bubbles’

“We owe our teachers a comprehensive health care plan, in writing, before they open themselves up to added risk,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is an emergency room physician.

“I view our teachers now as first responders because they are out there with our keiki, caring for them and educating them, during a time where we’ve had significant numbers of COVID-19 cases. We have to make sure it’s safe to open schools and some of our teachers would be vulnerable without a comprehensive health plan. I think we should insist on that before we put anyone into harm’s way,” Green added.

Green also cast doubt on claims by state health and education officials that students will remain in so-called ohana bubbles, minimizing any potential spread of the disease.

“Bubbles burst. I’m concerned,” Green said. “Young children can’t adhere to social distancing or staying in a bubble and teens will socialize and be difficult to manage.”

Write to the Board of Education by Wednesday

Please let the Hawaii State Board of Education know about your concerns as soon as possible. Its next meeting will be held Thursday, July 23, at 1:30 p.m. Please email the board by noon on Wednesday, July 22, to tell them we cannot open school campuses to students on Aug. 4.

Share your story. Has the HIDOE failed to answer important questions dealing with the reopening of schools? How does this impact your ability to teach and students’ ability to learn?

Email your testimony to testimony.BOE@boe.hawaii.gov, with the word “Testimony” in the subject line. At the top of the email, explain that you are testifying on Action Item H. Board Action on Memorandum of Understanding between State of Hawaii Board of Education and Hawaii State Teachers Association (SY 2020-2021 COVID-19 Response): 2017-2021 contractual modifications and conditions of work related to COVID-19 response for Bargaining Unit 5 employees.

Please include your name, and your school or workplace if you’re an educator, or school that your children attend. 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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Author: Keoki Kerr