Despite our calls to the contrary, many schools across the state welcomed thousands of students on campuses today, and additional face-to-face interactions are planned through the week. This cannot continue if we truly want to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in our communities.
In the last four days, the Hawaii State Teachers Association has received reports of employees at seven Oahu schools diagnosed with COVID-19, even before students return to public school campuses on Monday.
On Tuesday, HIDOE announced public schools on Kauai, Hawaii Island, and Maui County, with the exception of Molokai schools and Hana High & Elementary, will transition to full distance learning for the first four weeks of the 2020–21 school year.
Over the last few days, teachers across the state have contacted HSTA to report confirmed COVID-19 cases at four schools. In each of these cases, teachers were notified, but parents and the greater public were not. This is happening less than one week before students are supposed to return for face-to-face learning and testing on school campuses.
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said, “Hawaii can no longer pretend we are not in the middle of a pandemic and that somehow our keiki and our teachers are impervious to this virus. As teachers, we know how important education is, but we are most concerned about the lives of every one of our students. Online classwork cannot replace face-to-face learning, but it ensures that learning continues and that our keiki and our communities remain safe.”
On Thursday, July 30, at 1 p.m., the board will hold a special meeting to discuss school reopening options. The agenda includes three action items that link to background, recommendations, and implications as submitted by the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE). On Tuesday, July 28, we submitted joint testimony with HGEA and UPW on all three action items, which we are sharing below.
BOE Chair Catherine Payne said the board will “hold a special meeting to address the concerns in the testimony about training and health matters that came up. At that point, we could also consider a waiver (of the 180 required student instructional days) for some additional professional development days.”
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee says the differentials “worked better than our dreams ever imagined,” and not just by filling the actual positions. Rosenlee says higher education programs that funnel educators into these positions also saw a significant increase.
The HIDOE and DOH need more time to properly create and implement health strategies to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and schools need more time to prepare educators for an online environment.
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.