The State House and Senate have agreed to mandate disclosure of COVID-19 cases in public schools, overriding a veto by Gov. David Ige which would have kept secret the precise numbers of students and staff diagnosed with the disease, as well as the names of the schools where people were reported ill.
Ige previously objected to Senate Bill 811 due to privacy concerns at smaller schools. But lawmakers said disclosure of cases by school is necessary to protect public health.
“Without the public knowing what schools are impacted, how can they know their community is safe? How can they know that their children are safe,” said State Sen. Michelle Kidani, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
Senators overrode Ige’s veto by a 22 to 3 vote. The House unanimously voted to overturn Ige’s veto, by a vote of 46 to zero.
Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr. said, “We have seen for over a year that communities want more useful information in terms of notification about COVID cases in our public schools. We are thankful that legislators recognized this need from their constituents when overriding the governor’s veto. This brings us one step closer to increasing transparency from the departments of health and education.”
SB811 requires the HIDOE to publish a weekly report starting after July 1 on schools that have a student, staff member, or affiliated individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. The following information must be disclosed:
- The school’s name;
- The date the COVID-19 positive test result was reported to the school; and
- The date that the positively tested individual was last on the school campus.
Across the country, other school districts, cities, and counties have all disclosed similar specific information during the pandemic over the past year and a half.
Last month, news website Honolulu Civil Beat editorialized in favor of mandating more public disclosure in schools.
Currently, the Hawaii State Department of Education reports weekly cases by broad school complex areas, which are composed of two or three high schools and the middle and elementary schools below them.
“That level of reporting is especially unhelpful and is something that SB 811 would change for the better,” the Civil Beat editorial said.
For example, Civil Beat reported, while one new case was reported on June 11 for the Campbell-Kapolei complex on Oahu, that area represents 19 elementary, middle, and high schools. Those schools comprise a large area including Ewa Beach, Makakilo, Iroquois Point, Honouliuli, and other neighborhoods where there have been 137 cases since a year ago, Civil Beat said.
On Aug. 12, 2020, the HSTA raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the HIDOE’s disclosure policy, when the department began releasing weekly tallies cases broken down only by complex areas but not by individual schools.
A little more than a week later, the state of Hawaii Office of the Auditor released a report critical of the HIDOE’s policies and procedures for handling positive COVID-19 test results.
“Although DOE has communication policies and procedures in place to address COVID-19 cases, we question whether the department is following its own guidance. DOE generally has not provided information about COVID-19 cases on school campuses and the limited information that it does share has been inconsistent and incomplete,” the auditor’s report said.