HONOLULU — Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association, announced the union’s intention to file a prohibited-practice complaint with the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board and a class grievance against the state Department of Education during a Zoom teleconference Thursday afternoon.
Keoki Kerr, HSTA director of communications, said in a written statement the process of filing the complaint wouldn’t be completed until this afternoon.
During the conference, Rosenlee suggested the DOE has ignored the COVID-19 explosion and places the lives of faculty and students at high risk of transmission of the virus by choosing to open public schools to students the first four days of instruction, starting Monday, Aug. 17, before opting to return to distance learning.
The first phase of returning to classes is tentatively set for Monday through Thursday, Aug. 17 to 20, when students will physically return to campus on a coordinated and scheduled basis.
During this time, they will connect with teachers, receive training on distance learning, and gain access to the technology they may not have.
Beginning Aug. 17, school cafeterias will host grab-and-go-style meals for students, as dine-in services will not be allowed.
Governor David Ige said during his Thursday address that schools will take the necessary precautionary measures, but that he is “unfamiliar” with the discussion between HSTA and DOE.
“I didn’t hear anything about the lawsuit, so I can’t comment,” Ige said during Thursday afternoon’s briefing, pointing to a “thoughtful plan” in place to train students and staff in person for online learning. “We have families, teachers that are not familiar with online education, so that is imperative so that every student can be online before we start that.”
DOE superintendent Dr. Christina Kiskimoto calls the claims by HSTA “misleading.”
“What our keiki deserve is time to train and connect with their teachers to prepare before we shift to full distance learning for the next few weeks,” Kishimoto said.
“The union’s claim that ‘tens of thousands’ of students will be receiving face-to-face learning on campuses next week is a scare tactic that follows multiple publicity stunts to create further anxiety when we need sound leadership.”
During the second phase, Aug. 24 through Sept. 11, full distance learning will be implemented. Staff will be at designated worksites, and special-education services that cannot be performed through distance learning will be available.
The HSTA press release claims these dangerous plans for in-person learning, along with other violations of HSTA’s collective-bargaining agreement (contract), prompted HSTA to pursue legal action on two fronts.
The HSTA will file a prohibited-practice complaint with the HLRB against the state, and is requesting an impact bargaining with the DOE over the changing community conditions (with COVID-19 spreading) and the newly modified instructional plans.
During the teleconference, Rosenlee was adamant this plan wouldn’t be conducive to the school’s staff and faculty’s safety.
“Face-to-face learning in the middle of a raging pandemic is reckless and risks everyone’s lives,” Rosenlee said.
Addressing students with special needs
Eric Seitz, an attorney representing HSTA and the interests of students with special needs, took more aggressive action.
Seitz announced his intention, notifying the state attorney general’s office, to file a lawsuit against the DOE to prevent students from arriving at classrooms Monday.
“Sending them to unsafe schools, even for four days, in classrooms where we’ve heard there will be more than 10 people because there maybe seven or eight students, but those students have aides and assistants,” is dangerous, Seitz said.
“That will mean as many as 15 to 18 people in a small, confined area, and that violates every guideline from every agency, national and state and local, and puts people at risk,” said Seitz.
”I cannot conceive any circumstance now, or any rational policy-maker or decision-maker (who) would want to put children, teachers and staff members in an unsafe situation. It is beyond debate that what’s being proposed for next week is unsafe.”
Dr. Scott Micovich, with Premier Medical Group of Hawai’i, sided with the HSTA’s stance of waiting to reopen schools.
Micovich said the state Department of Health currently does not have adequate contract tracing to trace the virus, an argument he presented is his opposition to reopening public schools on Monday.
“A lot of our teachers are deciding this is unhealthy and are taking leave on school campuses requiring face-to-face interaction,” Micovich said. “Some are choosing to retire rather than put their families’ lives at risk.”
Micovich discussed the psychological impact the COVID-19 lockdowns have had on the staff, students and teachers.
“We are dealing with another aspect that isn’t talked about as much, and that is the psychological stress associated with people in their work environment,” Micovich said. “Anyone looking at this should realize it is not a safe work environment.”
Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or email@example.com.