The Hawaii State Teachers Association has reached agreement 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 agreement 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.
The public outcry to “reopen” our schools is a misnomer, since our schools are open and have been for most of the pandemic. Most of our teachers have been on campus conducting classes either virtually or on hybrid schedules. Hawaii teachers have acted heroically during this pandemic with some educators, especially those who work with vulnerable learners, in the classroom with students in close situations throughout this crisis.
There was an uproar when former President Donald Trump refused to follow the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and scientists about closing down schools. If we believed then that we should listen to the science and the scientists who recommended converting to virtual instruction, then we must also give serious consideration to these same scientists when they say that it is increasingly safe to bring more students back to campuses.
Hawaii’s situation is different from the continental United States. Hawaii has the lowest number of cases per capita compared to any other state, and on some islands, like Kauai, only a handful of cases are reported each week. Also, from the very beginning, Hawaii chose to prioritize the vaccination of school personnel right after first responders and health care workers.
Even though a great proportion of our educators have taken advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated, HSTA’s members still care about the health of our keiki for whom vaccinations have not yet been approved. Medical experts, including the CDC, Hawaii Department of Health (DOH), and Lt. Gov. Josh Green, have assured HSTA that the science and research show that it is safe to bring more students back to campus, especially younger children. This is a difficult decision, and HSTA has heard from members with strong opinions on both sides of this issue. In the end, it is important to allow parents to choose what they feel is best for their children knowing the risks, and we will always advocate for stringent measures to protect our students and our teachers.
This pandemic has clearly shown the value of public education and teachers, how important it is to lower class sizes and have the in-person interaction that inspires our students. Our keiki need their teachers, and many of you have shared how much you need your keiki. We have worked tirelessly to support our students through ever-changing situations and circumstances, and we can’t wait for our keiki to return when it is safe. Science tells us now is the time to begin doing just that, especially for our youngest learners who are least able to work independently and are suffering from continued isolation.
The agreement includes the following modifications and requirements for all Bargaining Unit 05 employees:
- The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) will align and continue to update its Return to Learn Reopening Plan(s) to CDC and DOH guidance for schools.
- The addendum includes additional and modified health and safety requirements:
- Regardless of the level of community spread, schools must follow the CDC, DOH, and HIDOE Health and Safety Handbook;
- Mitigation strategies must be used and layered to provide greatest protections.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- Teachers must be provided at least six feet of distance between their desk and student desks.
- Any school planning to increase the number of students on campus for in-person learning must provide the following:
- Teachers shall be provided a minimum of seven (7) calendar days notice prior to the change.
- Teachers shall be provided (upon request) with two blocks of 3.5 hours (total of 7 hours) of teacher-initiated preparation time.
- Simultaneous instruction: Schools considering concurrent instruction (teaching students in-person and virtually at same time) shall consider other options first. If the school does implement the concurrent instruction, upon request teachers shall be provided necessary supports to deliver effective instruction (e.g., professional development, technology, and equipment).
- Model D: Full distance learning is an agreed-to instructional model.
- In cases where a school’s buildings are closed and students sent home because of COVID-19, teachers who have to quarantine can work from a remote location.
HSTA will answer your questions live on Thursday
We will hold a live stream this Thursday, March 18, at 5:15 p.m. on our Facebook page and YouTube channel to answer your questions about health guidance and the addendum to the MOU as follows:
- 5:15 to 6 p.m. HSTA President Corey Rosenlee, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, and Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist
- 6 to 7 p.m. HSTA President Corey Rosenlee and Deputy Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Andrea Eshelman
These streams will be archived for later viewing. If you have specific questions about this new agreement regarding the plan to increase in-person learning, please submit them via this form.
If you would like to reach out directly to your HSTA UniServ Director, click here.
Mahalo for all that you have done and continue to do so that our communities can come through this ordeal ready to get back to normal as quickly and safely as possible.