It’s time to come together and let your voices be heard

Our featured video was recorded during a news conference with reporters while the following message was sent from HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr. to members.


The majority of you have been back to work for several days now, and the reports coming in are pretty dismal. Staff meetings have happened either in libraries with little to no fresh air ventilation, or with staff having to sit shoulder to shoulder in cafeterias without enough space to adequately maintain social distancing. Some administrators have turned a blind eye to those who refuse to mask or mask properly, or do not mask properly themselves. Many schools have already had letters go out due to COVID-19 cases being discovered and we know that some meetings last week included those cases.

Hundreds of you responded to our inaugural Question of the Week in Friday’s Member Matters email. The vast majority felt somewhat or very unsafe for themselves and for students. Your feedback has been incredibly helpful as we discuss your concerns with the media.

Former schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto was unwilling to allow her department to engage in contingency planning or meaningful dialogue on necessary measures to keep students safe and to keep you safe. Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi began his term yesterday and sadly, given the chance to assess the situation and steer the department in the right direction, he is continuing along the same path.

With the Delta variant spreading COVID-19 in our communities like never before, this head-in-the-sand mentality jeopardizes all of us.

Today, interim Superintendent Hayashi, along with Gov. David Ige and Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, announced that no changes will be made regarding the start of the 2021–22 school year. According to Hayashi, “All of our schools are strictly adhering to safety protocols and mitigation strategies to keep everyone safe.” Also, Dr. Char said that increases in cases would inevitably occur no matter when students returned to school and that no hard number regarding COVID-19 transmission would trigger the closure of a school or schools.

Parents are rightfully worried, especially those whose children have no access to vaccinations. On Friday, the state Department of Health reported 622 new cases with 25% of those cases identified as children. An increasing chorus of voices is urging the department to reconsider its plans, including Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino.

We have long been advocating for a solution that meets the needs of every student and their families. Unfortunately, our attempts to work with new HIDOE leadership were not fruitful.

Now, it’s time to come together and raise our collective voice to demand action as concerned educators, employees, and community members. Please contact your legislators and members of the Board of Education. Tell them we cannot continue business as usual. Tell them we demand proper planning and decision-making when transmission levels are listed as substantial and high. Tell them we insist on maintaining quality education for children and parents who are wary of in-person learning as cases surge.

Earlier today, I asked the governor if there was any willingness to, at a minimum, start our elementary schools in full distance mode given that none of our elementary students can receive the vaccine and a substantial number of cases have affected children. That request was rebuffed.

HSTA pushed the HIDOE to agree to items in the COVID-19 Memorandum of Understanding, which expired at the end of June, however the employer would not engage in any of those discussions. Parents, in the meantime, are being forced to choose between their children’s safety and education with few distance learning options available and many already full. While you may have little choice but to return to classrooms, parents still have the option to keep their children at home until they feel it is safe.

Much of this would be avoidable if more people who can get vaccinated do get vaccinated. To date, more than 1.7 million doses have been administered with over 850,000 Hawaii residents completing their vaccination. Certainly, that is not enough to reach herd immunity. If you are still hesitant, please be encouraged by the fact that almost all of your friends, family members, and colleagues who have gotten vaccinated have done so with little to no side effects.


The following is a transcript of HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr.’s opening statement to the media. View the full news conference here.

“We’re disappointed to hear today that parent concerns and educator concerns were not taking into consideration as the Department of Education plunges headfirst with their plans, and have no plan to shut down schools no matter how high the numbers surge. While former superintendent, [Dr. Christina] Kishimoto, was unwilling to engage in meaningful discussions and make plans for just this type of situation, we hoped that interim Superintendent [Keith] Hayashi might have taken those concerns into consideration.

“What we can’t understand is that transmission is so much higher than last year, but lots of contingencies are being removed, like making sure that students are socially distant, or the use of shields during meals. Our members report that despite the department saying that they have strict protocols, there’s already been improper masking while forcing large group interactions over the past couple of days when they’ve had faculty meetings. There’s already suspected transmission from some of these meetings as well as letters going out at a number of schools that there have been cases. Sadly, just saying that schools are safe places does not make it so. With 25% of new cases being children, that is extremely worrisome. Our students under 12 have no way to vaccinate themselves, but we’re willing to send them to schools on buses and on playgrounds while this extremely contagious variant spreads.

“The Board of Education was forward thinking when they made the department set up distance learning options. Unfortunately, since none of this planning was done months ago, parents are already being told that distance learning is not available. I asked the governor if we could even minimally start elementary schools in distance learning until the numbers come down and was rebuffed. So while our teachers have no choice but to return to work, parents, if you don’t feel school is safe for your children, you are free to exercise your right to keep your children home until you feel that it’s safe.”