LIHU‘E — For much of the discussion regarding a resolution urging the state to reopen in-person education, county councilmembers went back and forth.
On Wednesday, council Vice Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin introduced the resolution which also extended to urge reopening of interscholastic sports competitions, organized youth sports and adult recreational sports as appropriate. A resolution is a non-law-binding statement.
While the resolution ultimately passed unanimously amongst the six present councilmembers, conflict centered on timing, with some members expressing a desire to defer the resolution to allow for more discussion with educators.
Both Councilmembers Billy DeCosta and Felicia Cowden were concerned for those who would be directly affected by the body’s statement.
“I’m all for putting kids back to school,” said DeCosta, a teacher. “I don’t want us to be a governing body that puts this idea out there and we have no protocols, procedures or guidelines to support these principals who have to make things happen.”
DeCosta expressed that the council passing something like this gives the community false hope since it neglects consideration of whether or not Kaua‘i schools could easily implement mitigation efforts.
“Do (schools) need funding for shields? Do they need people on the playground to supervise the kids?” DeCosta asked.
Chock said the resolution isn’t about generating a plan or going back to school immediately, but more about supporting the idea that, when safe, schools should be open for in-person learning.
The resolution cites studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics, which both advocate for in-person schooling in areas of low transmission, and when teachers and staff can be vaccinated.
In the drafting stages, the resolution was discussed with state Department of Education leaders, DOE Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent Paul Zina, as well as regional health experts, Chock said.
“It’s simply a statement of support for our teachers, and for the important role that they play as they provide for our community … with the guidance all urging return to full-time, in-person education, especially in communities with low levels of transmission, such as Kaua‘i,” Evslin said.
However, in written testimony submitted to the council, Hawai‘i State Teacher Association Kaua‘i Chapter members explained that there are formal processes that must be followed. HSTA has a contracted memorandum of understanding with the state DOE that outlines safety protocols.
“We ask that all parties adhere to the integrity of labor bargaining by correctly going through the process of updating this MOU through a conversation with HSTA,” the members wrote. “This MOU is a contract that all parties must ahere to until amended formally.”
HSTA members thanked the council for the sentiment, but reiterated that these discussions are suited elsewhere.
“You raised many valid points, and now is an excellent time to discuss how we can move forward,” they wrote. “We simply ask that the process be through a formal conversation between HSTA and the DOE.”
Cowden and DeCosta also expressed a desire for more community input to be heard, including voices from all three unions: HSTA, Hawai‘i Government Employees Association and United Public Workers.
Councilmember Bernard Carvalho Jr., whose daughter is a school teacher, said he understands both sides of the debate.
One reason why Cowden suggested a deferral was so that the council could consider input for a HSTA board of directors meeting that was held Saturday.
However, the timing of the resolution, Chock said, is to signify to the state Legislature where community priorities lie as the state considers legislation that would implement a unified Safe Travels program. By presenting a unified, unanimous statement to the state focused on reopening schools and allowing other activities to resume, it sends a message to the state, Chock reiterated.
With this point brought up, Cowden and DeCosta both agreed that the context of the resolution, to take the guidance of the CDC and AAP as well as support educators, was acceptable to pass.
DeCosta did acknowledge some hypocrisy in this resolution early on. “Kids eat lunch in the cafeteria … We don’t even sit at the table (that) close.”
Council chambers are currently closed to the public, and have been since last March, pursuant to Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation related to COVID-19, which suspends sunshine laws and allows the meetings to be closed to the public, consistent with social distancing.
The council has not introduced any resolutions urging the state to reestablish sunshine (open-meeting) laws and reopen these meetings to allow in-person attendance.
Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i was excused from Wednesday’s meeting.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.