Aloha HSTA ʻohana,
If you haven’t already done so, most of you will be reporting back to school tomorrow with summer coming to a close. For many, it’s with excitement and trepidation all rolled into one. Students have missed us and missed their classmates, and we’ve missed having them as we long for life to return to normal. In planning for the new school year, I’m sure you are concerned about your safety and that of everyone in our schools and communities. I have no doubt that you will do everything in your power to keep students who return to your classrooms as safe as possible.
Understandably, anxiety exists regarding the continuing coronavirus pandemic. This is especially so with the Delta variant, which is causing an upswing in cases both locally and globally, primarily among those who remain unvaccinated. With newly released guidelines from the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH), we await Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) guidance on how the DOH guidelines are to be implemented in schools. Should you have concerns, please share them with your HSTA school-level leaders so that they can either be addressed with your administrators or shared with your chapter and state leaders and your HSTA staff UniServ Director (UD), who monitors issues and advocates on your behalf.
Members have repeatedly reported concerns about being expected to teach both simultaneously online and in person. Not only is this method of instruction overly burdensome, it is also an ineffective instructional strategy and ends up adversely affecting all students. The HIDOE has hastily set up distance learning options, however, we understand that for some schools, the options the department reports on its website do not align with what faculty are being told will take place. Additionally, the website does not clearly explain to the public what “synchronous” instruction means. The Board of Education (BOE) has already expressed it is not in favor of simultaneous instruction (BOE says no more ‘Zoom and room’ simultaneous instruction), so we ask that if you are expected to teach by this method, please let your UD know.
As you are gearing up for the new school year, a lot of uncertainty remains as we await the transition from Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto to Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi. This transition, coupled with the guidance from DOH released Monday, has further delayed our official meeting with the department to discuss critical issues that are arising. These include: reports that COVID-19 cases at schools are not being published on the HIDOE’s website as mandated by law, how the HIDOE intends to address safety during breakfast and lunch, that meetings should continue to have virtual options to minimize unnecessary interactions, and what is being done about ventilation in our most poorly ventilated classrooms. We also want to know what the HIDOE is doing given reports of lead contamination in water sources at our schools.
Once the HIDOE leadership transition takes place, we would also like to know more specifically how the department intends to spend federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. HIDOE Chief Financial Officer Brian Hallett announced on June 17 at the BOE’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee meeting that a detailed expenditure plan would be presented to the BOE in August. The only scheduled BOE meeting in August is August 19. We would like to know when and how the 21 hours of job-embedded professional development will be restored and what will come of the funds that were originally allocated by the legislature for the $2,200 educator workforce stabilization payments, especially since the governor has said he’s open to negotiating them. In the meantime, our parent organization, the National Education Association, continues to advocate on your behalf to ensure that additional federal dollars are invested in students, educators, and schools.
As you prepare for students to return, I thank you for everything you have done on behalf of our keiki, especially given all the struggles over the past year. I will follow up with you in the weeks to come with broader HSTA plans for the year ahead, including increased opportunities for member input and engagement as well as what we need to do collectively to prepare for the next legislative session, the upcoming election season, and bargaining for the next contract to succeed the current one that runs July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2023.
Mahalo and aloha,
Osa Tui, Jr.