Teachers, commission reach travel deal

The Hawaii State Teachers Association and Ethics Commission reached an agreement Tuesday to allow free travel for teachers who serve as chaperones on school-related trips with private tour companies.

“This agreement will allow us to move forward, but the BOE (Board of Education), because of the advisory’s decision from the Ethics Commission last year, made changes to teacher travelling practices,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president. “So now, we’re going to have to work with the BOE and DOE (Hawaii Department of Education) to change the practices to allow this to occur.”

This agreement comes nearly a year and a half after the commission ruled that teachers would not be given free travel as it violated the Hawaii State Ethics Code. Under the new agreement, the teacher’s travel expenses will be paid for by the private tour companies who have a policy that allows one chaperone to travel for free for every eight or 10 travelers — students in this case — who pay for the trip, without violating the state’s code of ethics.

In other words, without this agreement, Hawaii’s educators would have to pay out of pocket in order to serve as chaperones on educational trips.

“We always felt that Ethics Commission’s decision was way too broad in its implementation,” Rosenlee said. “And now what we’ve done is fixed any problems and hopefully we can work with the BOE and allow students and teachers to go on these very worthwhile educational trips.”

Rosenlee told The Garden Island that the Commission’s decision last year wasn’t a reasonable ruling, seeing as it would be nearly impossible for educators to pay for the trips by themselves.

“The Ethics Commission Advisory basically said that teachers couldn’t go on trips as long as students paid for their chaperones travel. Which basically means that in order to do these trips, teachers would have to pay out of pocket and if you’ve seen a teacher’s salary, that wasn’t going to happen,” Rosenlee said.

Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi issued a statement Tuesday morning regarding the agreement.

“Teachers work hard to create these educational opportunities that go beyond the classroom. For many of our students, these trips are the first time they’ve traveled beyond their communities. We’re pleased about this news and look forward to working with the Board of Education in creating clear guidance for our schools to ensure these trips meet the requirements of the Ethics Commission,” Matayoshi said.

The agreement will still need to be reviewed by the BOE and ratified to ensure that teachers will be allowed to serve as chaperones for free.

“There’s so much learning that’s going on beyond the classroom for students. Even on Kauai for things that are happening outside of Kauai,” Rosenlee said. “How much do travel do they have to do for a robotics competition on Oahu or any competition? What if they actually do well on these things and they can go to the nationals? Are they going to have to go by themselves or have a teacher with them?”

Rosenlee said that teachers help students fundraise for these trips and fill out the paperwork involved on top of their job as educators.

“These teachers would not only have to pay for these trips and what people don’t realize is that they wouldn’t even get compensated,” he said. “They’re working for free and they expect them to pay for it themselves.”

A “good step” in the right direction is what Rosenlee called the agreement.

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