HSTA leaders support mask-wearing, access to PPE, but concerns remain

The Hawaii State Department of Health Monday issued updated guidance for schools, which includes promoting, but not requiring, COVID-19 vaccination.

Among the changes, mask guidance was updated for indoor and outdoor settings, and schools are advised to implement physical distancing where possible, but should not exclude students from in-person learning.

View the full guidance and a summary of changes from the DOH here.

Many teachers, if they haven’t done so already, are returning to classrooms this week to prepare for students’ return on Aug. 3.

HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr. says he and fellow HSTA leaders are continuing to absorb the updated guidance, and stressed during a news conference Monday that “our teachers have wanted to be back in school with their students for a while now, and they are committed to making their classrooms as safe as possible for their students.”

Tui lauded the department’s use of masks as a mitigation strategy, along with access to PPE (personal protective equipment) and sanitation. However, he continued to voice concerns as schools enter the new school year.

“We want to make sure that students also have access to online options, especially for parents who are worried to send their students back who are younger than 12 years old,” Tui said, “and for every child that is on an online option, that’ll just make it one less student in the classroom and allow us to socially distance even better.

“But what we don’t want to do is have teachers mandated to teach simultaneously, where they’re teaching both online and in person at the same time. We’ve had a lot of them having to do that last year, and it just did not work. For both sets of students, it was not effective,” Tui added.

As schools plan for in-person instruction, Tui says interaction should be limited to students and teachers only.

“When we have these faculty meetings where teachers are going to be in rooms together, what we don’t want is for there to be a COVID outbreak among the teachers, and then effectively having to quarantine all of our teachers at a school. That is absolutely not going to work,” he said.

Julie Reyes Oda, a math teacher at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School on Oahu, who also serves as HSTA’s Leeward Chapter president, says many teachers in her chapter share this concern.

“I’ve been getting calls about teachers who are worried about faculty meetings,” she said. “We have the largest schools in the state, and some schools have faculty meetings of over 200 people in one place. Everyone works so hard to get kids on campus. We want everyone to be safe, students and teachers.”

Reyes Oda says teachers should have the option to access these meetings virtually. “It worked last year,” she said. “We don’t want outbreaks amongst faculty and staff.”