LIHU‘E — Hawaii State Teachers Association voiced concerns on Tuesday about bringing students back to classrooms, citing a lack of preparation and insufficient pandemic training.
HSTA representatives detailed their concerns in a news conference held the day after Governor David Ige announced the reopening of public school campuses to students on Aug. 4.
Teachers are set to return to the classroom July 29.
“Opening schools quickly isn’t something we should do in a pandemic. What is the rush?” said HSTA president Corey Rosenlee in the conference. “Our schools need more time to create a healthy environment (for) students and teachers.”
HSTA and the Department of Education have been hashing out the details of welcoming students back to public school campuses for more than a month, and those details are included in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the union and DOE on July 14, according to the DOE.
HSTA leadership says they still have qualms about the plan, though. They cite requested changes in the MOU that they say haven’t been implemented — including a lack of protocols for personal protective equipment and sanitization, a lack of guidance for 100% distance learning options, and a lack of a plan for when COVID-19 surfaces at a school.
What happens if a student, teacher or other employee, or household members tests positive for COVID-19,” Rosenlee asked. “(We need to be) clear on what are the procedures in case someone contracts this virus.”
DOE spokesperson Lindsay Chambers said Tuesday, that the HSTA-requested changes to the Return to Learn plan are being made.
“The changes haven’t been made publicly on our website yet,” Chambers said, explaining the public facing version of the changes to the revised plan are being made as the changes are vetted.
For example, she said, protocols for addressing a positive case on a campus are outlined in the DOE health and safety handbook and in the DOE pandemic plan.
The MOU is on the agenda for a Thursday BOE public meeting and will be revisited.
As the state moves forward with the plan to welcome students back to public school campuses on Aug 4, HSTA says teachers statewide are concerned about a lack of preparation time for the many changes required for the upcoming school year.
Those concerns are echoed on Kauai, according to Caroline Freudig, HSTA Kauai Chapter President and first grade teacher at Kalaheo Elementary.
“Very few things are worked out,” said Freudig. “If we want to be successful, we need more time to prepare our teachers and to go through safety protocols ourselves, as adults.”
In the Monday announcement of the state’s Return to Learn plan for bringing students back, Ige cited the Sept. 1 push-back of reopening to quarantine-free trans-pacific travel as one of the reasons for the Aug. 4 decision.
He stated: “We do not want to reopen our schools and receive more travelers simultaneously. A phased approach will help ensure a safe return for our students and minimize other factors that could lead to the spread of COVID-19 that we have been able to carefully manage so far.”
HSTA representatives maintain that teachers haven’t been trained well enough on that “phased approach” to effectively do their jobs, and voiced concerns that bringing kids back to campus too early will kick off another wave of virus spread.
As educators look toward bringing students into the classroom, DOE officials, administrators, and teachers are balancing professional responsibilities with their personal lives. They have questions about things like childcare for their own kids while they’re at work and about how to keep their families safe.
“A lot of folks on this team are parents themselves and have kids in school,” Chambers said. “(We’re) trying to move forward in a safe way that makes sense.”
Freudig echoed Chambers.
“We’re all trying to do it (start school) the right way,” Freudig said. “(But) you can’t be effective if you’re worried about the environment you’re in and the protocols not being in place, and about balancing your own personal concerns.”
The Hawaii Board of Education will be virtually meeting on Thursday, July 23rd at 1:30 p.m. The public can view the WebEx Meeting online at:
Meeting number: 120 008 4525
Meeting password: joinmeeting
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.