Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

The Hawaii State Board of Education (BOE) Thursday voted to adjust the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) 2020–21 school year calendar by delaying students’ return to school until Monday, Aug. 17.

The change gives school staff an additional nine days for training and preparation before students to return to class.

The 7-1 vote on Action Item A took place just after 5 p.m. following more than four hours of public testimony from dozens of teachers, parents, and community leaders, and extensive board discussion. View the full meeting agenda here.

A. Board Action on revisions to the Department of Education’s 2020-2021 school calendar: additional training and professional development days for teachers and staff at the beginning of the school year and delaying Students’ First Day to ensure health and safety preparedness for schools

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee told the board he joined leaders of the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) and United Public Workers (UPW) in supporting the delay of students to allow time for employees to receive proper training, time to receive necessary personal protective equipment, and adequate time to prepare for students to return to campuses.

Related Story: Unions submit joint testimony to BOE on school reopening options

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the nine additional days will focus on “quality in-service training and professional development.” Four days will be dedicated to mandatory training, including seven distance learning modules, and five days will be administrator-directed professional development for staff.

Substitute teachers will also be given a full paid day to complete the distance learning modules to “guarantee that all of our substitutes get that quality training and can work hand-in-hand with the teacher that he or she is substituting for,” she noted.

“I think it responds to a lot of the comments made by our employees, our leadership team, and at the last board meeting. We know that we’re going to need to continue to keep track of additional clarity. We’ll need to provide throughout the year additional problem-solving and additional work that will have to be done, and this is really going to require a week-by-week assessment of how implementation is going,” Kishimoto said. “These are going to be very, very difficult decisions, but I appreciate everyone continuing to share their perspectives, their best thinking at the table as we continue to make decisions, and to continue to provide that voice of confidence and hope for our students and our families who we know are struggling with making this design work, because ultimately, we’re not doing a full, in-person opening.”

Board member Kili Namauu said she met with several Maui County principals, teachers, and parents. “Our teachers, our administrators will not be ready on Aug. 4 if they are forced to provide instruction to these students. It would be chaotic,” she said. “We need to take the time and honor them with this additional time that they have all requested. They really want this to happen. I also asked them further if they felt confident after those nine days of training if they would be able to open schools on the 17th, and all of them said yes.”

While he does not hold a voting position, student representative Hunter Harris shared the Hawaii State Student Council’s perspective on the reopening of schools.

“Students are comfortable with returning to school as long as our teachers are,” Harris said. “Hearing that the HSTA, the UPW, and the HGEA have come together with the department to come to this date of Aug. 17 is very reassuring.”

Kishimoto noted that approximately 160, or 1.2 percent, of roughly 13,000 public school teachers did not report on Wednesday, July 29, for their first day back at school.

Watch HSTA’s live stream of the meeting on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.

No decision yet on instructional days or hours

Hoping to recover some of the lost instructional days through negotiations, the board opted to postpone making a decision on Item B. Board Action on general waiver to allow reduction of the 180-day school year and 1,080 student instructional hours pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 302A-251, consistent with revisions to the Department of Education’s 2020-2021 school calendar.

“We all want to allow schools the time to prepare the school site and train to positively impact instruction. We’re also concerned about the reduction in school days and instructional time and its impact on learning,” said board member Lynn Fallin.

BOE expectations

Board members spent several hours discussing their expectations around key issues of concern under Item C, including (1) focusing additional training and professional development days included in the revisions to the Department of Education’s 2020-2021 school calendar on health, safety, and distance learning.

Kishimoto made the following claims about distance learning that many teachers watching the meeting live on HSTA’s social media immediately contradicted: “Each school has a distance learning team or distance learning contact that works to help distribute information so we’ve set up an infrastructure also so that there is a contact that the state office team can reach out to directly about follow-up opportunities, ongoing needs, and so forth, knowing that this is a major lift for us this year.”

The board voted to remove (2) starting student instruction for the 2020-2021 school year in distance learning mode, which would have applied to all schools. Individual schools are still able to start the school year in distance-learning mode for the majority of their students, as some are planning to do.

Many members expressed their support for (3) mandating masks on public school campuses.

“I would support the expectation that some sort of mask or shield be required, especially with the rise in cases on Oahu,” said board member Dwight Takeno, who represents the City and County of Honolulu. “Having this is a small price, an inconvenience for individuals and students, but it would protect the overall safety of not only the students and staff there, but the community in general.”

“As part of the training, we are sharing the one-pager for all staff members to use and we have schools that have been putting up their posters around mask requirements,” Kishimoto said. “I can ensure that during the trainings that we are very explicit that the standard of practice is that masks are required.”

Members also voiced concern over (4) detailed, written, publicly posted guidance from the Department of Health (DOH), something HSTA has been asking for since the pandemic began.

“It’s clearly one of the frustrations that we hear from the testimony,” said Board Chair Catherine Payne. “Whereas we have some guidance attached to the opening plan, there’s still a lack of clarity on some of the other big issues about when do you close a school and what are the triggers, which Superintendent has said they are working on.”

Lack of communication, transparency

In his oral testimony Thursday, Rosenlee asked the board to get further written guidance from the DOH and the HIDOE. He noted the school-related coronavirus cases made public Wednesday night. According to news reports, the department said six campuses—one on Kauai and five on Oahu—reported positive COVID-19 cases involving either a student, employee, or service provider for a total of six cases, one per campus.

“HSTA agrees with today’s agenda item that this lack of guidance and transparency caused problems, delayed implementation, and led to a general erosion of public trust,” Rosenlee said. “How can in-person schooling start if there is no written guidance on this and other important information?

“HSTA requests that the BOE get those answers before the Aug. 17 scheduled return of students to campuses. How else can we ensure our schools are safe for our keiki?”

Rosenlee raised questions to the BOE about the lack of notification to the public, HSTA, and others. “This important information was never shared with HSTA during any of our negotiations nor during the process set up to consider exceptions to the six-foot distancing rule,” Rosenlee said.

Board members agreed.

Takeno noted that the six campus cases were “news to me as well as many of my board colleagues. For the past several months we’ve been asking for data and information from the department to help us develop and formulate policy decisions on the reopening of schools for students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. My concern is this lack of transparency is concerning, as it not only jeopardizes the credibility of the department and the board, but unfortunately only harms the students that we were entrusted to serve and protect.

“It perplexed me that we as board members continue to get the most important and significant information from press releases, news conference, and media reports on matters that I believe require board approval, or at least knowledge thereof,” said Takeno.

“I don’t want to hear from the media the cases that we have in our public schools. That should come from you, Superintendent,” said Board Vice Chair Kenneth Uemura.

Rosenlee said with six cases out of “8,000 students this summer, what happens when we have 180,000 students return? Could we expect a similar ratio of 180 cases in our schools? Will these outbreaks be shared with the public and this board? Trust demands transparency.”

Ultimately, board members approved expectations 1 (requiring extra professional development on safety and distance learning), 3 (making it clear the board “expects everyone on public school campuses to wear a face mask…”), and 4 (“…the Board expects the DOE to rely on detailed, written, publicly available guidance from the DOH when formulating its own guidance to schools…”) under Action Item C.

They adjourned the meeting after almost seven hours Thursday evening.