Guidance on the framework for schools to increase students on campus for in-person learning

Members should know their contractual rights when it comes to their working conditions during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The following guidance is provided as a member resource regarding the agreement reached with the State of Hawaii and the Hawaii Board of Education to amend the June 2020 memorandum of understanding (MOU) related to COVID-19 response for school year 2020-2021 and the corresponding coronavirus (COVID-19) preparation and response letter dated July 13, 2020.

The addendum to the current MOU provides a framework to allow schools to increase the number of students returning to campuses in the fourth quarter for in-person learning, especially students in elementary schools. Any area of the MOU not modified by this addendum will still remain in full force and effective through June 30, 2020.

View the addendum

On March 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance around COVID-19 and schools. HSTA has requested a meeting with the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) on this development. We are currently reviewing the new guidance and will update our resources accordingly. Members should know that the new addendum agreement reached with the employer requires the HIDOE to continue to update its Health and Safety Handbook to align with both the CDC and state DOH guidance for schools.

The following FAQs are provided as a member resource and should not be considered exhaustive. Should you need further assistance, please contact your UniServ Director.


Item #3 of the addendum agreement requires administrators to provide teachers no less than seven (7) calendar days notice prior to increasing the number of students on campus. If the school is planning to change the instructional model in addition to increasing in-person learning, the instructional model decision-making process on pages 8–10 of the MOU (lines 176–225) must be followed.

Special note for the week of March 22–26: The parties have agreed for interpretation purposes that any school planning to increase in-person learning the first week of fourth quarter must have notified teachers prior to the spring break. This is because most teachers are not working during spring break and would have no way of being properly notified while at work.

Teachers should also know that the BOE, in its Oct. 1, 2020 meeting, directed the department to ensure that families and staff are provided a two-week notice: “Schools transitioning from one instructional delivery mode to another must provide families and school staff with at least a two-week notice before implementing the transition unless the transition is in direct response to confirmed or potentially imminent COVID-19 spread in the school or surrounding community.” — March 19, 2021

There is no legal requirement to notify a teacher (employee) of a student’s specific identity or other staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19. However, administrators need to identify those individuals who meet the criteria of a close contact so they can seek out testing and need to self-quarantine. Please see below for the current guidance as of this posting, and note that the definition has changed as science and research evolved.

The employer should not notify employees of a person’s identity by name if it can be helped. For example, a small, in-person meeting involved adults sitting less than six feet apart for more than 15 minutes, and one of those individuals tested positive. If the principal has a list of individuals at the meeting, you would be told that they have identified you as being someone who was in close contact (meeting the standard) because you were at the meeting and you should get tested. They would not have to tell you the person’s name.

This is where what a teacher tells the administration about their classroom setup and interaction becomes important. If you are a teacher who stays ONLY at the front of the room and six feet away from all students, you may not need to be defined as a close contact. However, if your students regularly leave their seats and interact with each other and you at less than six feet, or perhaps you walk the classroom to check how they are doing, it is likely that you are within six feet of a student for more than 15 minutes. Even with those conditions, you would likely not be told the name of a student, only that there is a student in your room who tested positive.

If you know a student in your room has tested positive and a student is out sick, you will likely figure it out anyway. You can also ask point-blank if your classroom was affected.

The HIPAA rules require that personal health information is kept as confidential as possible. Generally, this is applicable to health entities like hospitals, but there is overlap with employers, for example, if your doctor provides a note related to your health condition that has to be kept confidential.

U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements also come into play. They require employers as well schools to keep confidential personal medical and or other disability-related conditions. Current federal guidance says if there are positive cases identified in the workplace, the employer is supposed to investigate to determine possible exposure of others. Such an investigation is usually conducted by interviewing the positive person and or retracing the places they were at work/campus. However, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) also expect that the person’s identifiable information remains as much as possible protected and not disclosed. The only disclosure that is explicitly required and not prohibited is to state, local, and federal health authorities.

The current guidelines for close contacts and notification, which have evolved over time, must be followed. For example, at one time, the guidelines defined anyone who was in a classroom for 15 minutes or more to be defined as close contact. As science and research evolved, that guidance changed. The current guidance (linked here) includes the following:

Conditions for reporting possible exposure and close contact situations:

  • The infectious period begins two days prior to the onset of symptoms, or if the individual is not exhibiting any symptoms, two days prior to the positive COVID-19 test specimen collection date.
  • A close contact at school is someone who was exposed to the individual who tested positive with COVID-19 during their infectious period:
    • Within 6 feet of an infected person over a 24-hour period for a combined total of 15 minutes or more.
    • In direct contact with secretions (e.g. being coughed on).
  • The determination of close contact should be made irrespective of persons wearing face covering/masks
  • If a school can clearly identify which persons meet those criteria, all persons in the class may not be identified as close contacts. Instances where all persons in the class would be considered close contacts includes:
    • Cohorts in classrooms that spend the entire day together and interact with others within the cohort (typically younger grade levels);
    • Classrooms that do not have assigned seats and/or students are frequently moving around in class;
    • Cohorts that engage in activities that may increase the risk of transmission (e.g., eating/drinking, singing, using musical instruments that require blowing).

Instances where all persons in the class may not be considered close contacts include:

  • Classrooms with assigned seating and students remain seated throughout class.

March 31, 2021

Health and safety

The best practices related to addressing mitigation of risk for COVID-19 transmission in schools continue to be updated and expanded as the scientists and experts learn more. Click to view the most current information:

March 19, 2021

The June 2020 MOU on COVID-19 remains in place. In addition, this new addendum included the following additional specific mitigation measures that must be in place as follows:

  • Regardless of the level of community spread, schools must follow the CDC, DOH, and HIDOE Health and Safety Handbook; (Item #1)
  • Mitigation strategies must be used and layered to provide the greatest protections. (Item #8)
  • Core strategies to be implemented in every situation: consistent masking, hand hygiene, and sending home sick students and staff and keeping them home when they are sick. (Item #8a)
  • Strategies to be used in combination to the greatest extent possible: cohorting of students, physical distancing (ideally at least six feet), increase outside air ventilation, physical barriers, and cleaning (especially high-touch areas). (Item #8b)
  • In schools where six feet distancing is not possible, there must be open-air ventilation, use of air filtering systems, and students kept in established cohorts. The new agreement allows for configuration of classroom spaces at less than six feet, as long as other mitigation strategies are in place. (Item #8b)
  • Masks are to be used consistently and mask breaks (where students and adults remove their masks) are to be taken only outdoors or in a well-ventilated area if an outdoor area is not feasible (and spaced six feet apart). (Items #8 and #9)
  • Teachers must be provided at least six feet of distance between their desks and student desks. (Item #10)

March 19, 2021

The CDC issued updated physical distancing guidance on Friday, March 19, that recommends at least 3 feet between students in classrooms and provides clearer guidance when a greater distance (such as 6 feet) is recommended.

The additional guidance includes the following:

Between students in classroom

  • In elementary schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart.
  • In middle schools and high schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart in areas of low, moderate, or substantial community transmission. In areas of high community transmission, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart if cohorting is not possible.

Maintain 6 feet of distance in the following settings:

  • Between adults (teachers and staff), and between adults and students, at all times in the school building. Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools.
  • When masks cannot be worn, such as when eating.
  • During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band, or sports and exercise. Move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated space, when possible.
  • In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums.

Use cohorting, and maintain 6 feet of distance between cohorts where possible. Limit contact between cohorts. In areas of substantial (orange) and high (red) levels of community transmission, schools that use less than 6 feet between students in classrooms, cohorting is recommended, with at least 6 feet maintained between cohorts. — March 19, 2021

It depends. Campuses can configure classrooms at less than six feet for in-person learning only if they can meet all the other mitigation strategies of layering protections, such as mandatory masking (no masks off at less than six feet) and proper ventilation. — March 19, 2021
No, there are no plans for such testing. With the wide availability of testing at our community health providers, there is no need to implement testing at the school site. In addition, there is no additional funding for the necessary staffing to provide rapid testing sites in our schools. — March 19, 2021

The CDC defines cohorting (or podding) as “a distinct group that stays together throughout the entire school day during in-person learning, or over the course of any pre-determined period of time, so that there is minimal or no interaction between groups.”

Cohorting of students is far simpler in the lower grades than in the secondary grades. The cohorting is to be done as much as possible. This may mean that some elective classes are continued to be taught virtually to prevent movement and mixing of students. — March 19, 2021

If you are having PPE shortage issues on your campus, please alert your HSTA UniServ Director. We have been assured that there is more than adequate PPE for all employees and the standard is for schools to have a 60-day supply on hand. If there is a problem, HSTA will assist to get the matter remedied. — March 19, 2021

The June MOU requires that adequate supplies should be provided. If not, teachers are to be reimbursed for the supplies. HSTA has been assured that there are adequate supplies for the schools. If there is a problem, HSTA will assist to get the matter remedied. — March 19, 2021

The HIDOE has conducted assessments of buildings and classrooms and your administration should know the results of those assessments. The HIDOE metrics on this topic can be found here.

Many classrooms should not have a problem bringing fresh air into the room via open doors and windows, through the use of additional fans and filtration systems and adjustments to HVAC systems. Additional information about fresh air circulation can be found on page 6 of the DOH guidance and in CDC guidance linked here. — March 19, 2021

Yes, there is no change in that provision from the June MOU, page 4, lines 91–92. — March 19, 2021

Leave and telework during fourth quarter

The current HSTA contract has a provision in Article X, section G, which requires that if students are sent home due to emergencies, that teachers are also sent/stay home. We added language to make it clear that for this school year if teachers are in a position where they need to quarantine because of close contact they can continue to work from a remote location (and not be told to come to work). Note, if a teacher is ill they should be utilizing sick leave and have a substitute. — March 19, 2021

No. Unlike in 2020, when there was some federal relief and additional paid leave for those who might need to stay home in quarantine or because of COVID-19-related symptoms, there is no specific additional paid leave in 2021.
If a teacher contracts COVID-19, they would be categorized as ill or sick and would have to be out on sick leave. To be on a paid status, they would need to use their individual sick leave bank.
Teachers should know that if they are directed to quarantine because of exposure, there is quarantine leave. See the following:

If you feel you were injured as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, you also have the right to file a workers compensation claim. — March 19, 2021

Yes, the teleworking program is still operating. However, the HIDOE will not approve teachers who have in-person instructional responsibilities for telework. — March 19, 2021

Planning time

If a school is planning to increase the number of students in the fourth quarter, a teacher may request to have two blocks of no less than three and a half (3.5) hours of teacher-initiated prep time. Note the following:

  • The principal shall provide the time if requested.
  • The principal has discretion for scheduling, but can’t deny the time.
  • Combining the time into one full day of seven (7) hours without students for prep is allowed.
  • When scheduling the 3.5-hour block, the time should NOT include any of the teacher’s current prep time on that day.
  • The time provided should come via administrative time and/or could be during asynchronous learning time (when teachers don’t have instructional duties).

March 19, 2021

The intention is for teachers to be provided the time in advance of the increase in students as the whole point is to be able to prepare instruction and the classroom for that increase. However, it is not mandatory and it is understood that in some cases it will not be possible, especially for those schools that have already planned to bring back more students the week of March 22. — March 19, 2021

Instructional models and delivery

Last summer, when the HSTA and employer reached an agreement on the different instructional models, we did not anticipate that schools would need to continue to utilize a full-distance model. The language in item #4 of the addendum merely captures the agreement that both parties recognize that schools have had to use a model which was not originally planned for last summer.

In addition, item #4 recognizes that some schools may need to implement both Model D and other models for students, utilizing a combination to meet the instructional needs of our students. — March 19, 2021

Simultaneous instruction (also known as concurrent or HyFlex) is when a teacher provides instruction to students both in-person and virtually at the same time.

The new agreement addresses this type of delivery of instruction in item #5.

The HSTA strongly believes that simultaneous instruction is not the best method of instruction and creates a number of problems for both teachers and students.

However, HSTA also acknowledges that some of our members would prefer to deliver instruction concurrently rather than have to teach the lesson twice.

The new agreement requires that schools shall consider other options besides simultaneous instruction first. If the school does implement the concurrent instruction, teachers have the right to request and shall be provided those necessary supports to deliver effective instruction. — March 19, 2021

While there is no agreed-upon list or specific definition, HSTA was assured by the employer that it will do what is necessary to make sure teachers have the necessary professional development, technology, equipment, and other support for concurrent learning. Some of the items discussed during negotiations included the need for teachers to have computers with enough processing power to run both video conferencing software and other programs for instruction. We also discussed additional accessories such as document cameras, audio equipment, and secondary monitors. — March 19, 2021

Acellus is being phased out by the HIDOE as an approved and available curriculum. There are a number of other curriculums that are being considered by schools. However, HSTA strongly discourages schools from relying on an online pre-packaged curriculum. We believe that the best instruction comes from teachers. In addition, there always needs to be a “teacher of record” monitoring and facilitating the student’s learning. — March 19, 2021

There is no specific list, each teacher is different. Some teachers may just need support in figuring out how to use their equipment and technology, others may need more support around the delivery on the various platforms.

Teachers should be specific in their requests for the type of PD they seek. It should be noted that HSTA didn’t feel it would be appropriate or in the best interest of members to try to mandate specific modules of PD related to concurrent instruction as everyone has very different needs. — March 19, 2021


While HSTA can’t guarantee a teacher will not get sued, there are protections.

The HSTA contract, under Article X Teacher Protection, requires the employer to provide legal counsel for any teacher who is sued in the course of their employment and within the scope of their duties and responsibilities.

In addition, if you are an HSTA member, you qualify for an additional $1 million liability insurance coverage through HSTA and National Education Association. — March 19, 2021

Coverage for any teacher’s in-person students would be the responsibility of the administration. HSTA reminds teachers that requiring other teachers to substitute for an absent teacher is a violation of the contract. — March 19, 2021

Yes, there is language addressing this situation in the June MOU, page 4, lines 82–83, which requires that all teachers shall have access to an enclosed classroom space, at all times, out of the heat and other inclement weather. This means that teachers may use those outside areas, but can’t be forced to have to stay in those outside areas. — March 19, 2021

The Hawaii State Department of Education, superintendent, and governor have the ultimate say over public schools, and the schools have always had to follow the state and local guidance for schools. While there have been local and state restrictions since the beginning, schools have been exempt from the specific rules about things such as gathering in groups. This is also why there is separate guidance from the Hawaii DOH for schools. — March 19, 2021

It is HSTA’s understanding that the superintendent’s expectation is that campuses will increase the number of students on campus. However, each campus is unique, and in some cases, schools will not increase students from third to the fourth quarter. — March 19, 2021

Have more questions? Feel free to contact your assigned HSTA UniServ Director. If you don’t know who that is, click here and request a consultation.