HONOLULU — The state Board of Education says more information is needed before they can make a decision on reopening schools to in-person learning.
At its Thursday meeting to discuss safely opening schools by the fourth quarter, it was determined that a decision could be made at the next meeting, in two weeks.
BOE members emphasized the importance of clear communication and consultation with regards to reopening schools.
Board member Kili Namau‘u said the decision should be left to the principals. Namau‘u also pointed out the time frame is crunched for in-person learning to begin in mid-March.
“The principals know their schools the best, and what it will take to reopen,” Namau‘u said. “It’s a lot to be asking of the principals in a short period of time.”
Jonathan Medeiros, a language-arts teacher at Kaua‘i High School, submitted written testimony opposing the forced opening of schools to full-time learning. His opening statement said teachers and students at KHS and across the state are working hard and learning every day, using online learning systems.
“Everyone in my department is in agreement that full, face-to-face and virtual at the same time is simply not possible,” Medeiros said.
While there are some educators and parents who are opposed to reopening schools, there are parents like Christina Israelsen, a mother of two students at Kaua‘i High School and two elementary students at a private school, who believes reopening schools should be the highest priority of the state.
“Tourism was allowed to open, schools were not,” Israelsen said in testimony. “I wanted to make you aware of the social, emotional and mental impact it has had on my kids. We are seeing depression, talk of suicide, and a severe lack of learning and motivation. I would like to see spring outdoor sports and clubs and activities. I would like to have my teens have more reason to get out of bed than to roll over and stare at a screen for another day.”
She continued: “I want to see education open before tourism. I want the priorities to be straight. I want to see an island that has sacrificed financially with tourism see the pay off by being able to educate our keiki in person. The last year is lost. But please open one last quarter… with masks, caution, guidelines, a plan to pull back if cases get bad, but most importantly the option for full, in-person education.”
The board also discussed next steps for state Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto’s employment contract, ultimately deferring the discussion for two weeks.
On both issues, BOE member Catherine Payne said the board needs more time “to process all of the written testimonies.”
As her contract comes up for renewal, Kishimoto has been accused of poor leadership and lack of communication.
Sienna Makarewicz, a teacher at Kapa‘a Elementary School, complained that the superintendent “has no clear vision.”
Makarewicz said Kishimoto “changes with the wind” and does not listen to the BOE, nor does she communicate with her teachers.
“We get information from the news and social media,” Makarewicz said in her written testimony. “She thinks she can make all decisions yet she does not take responsibility for her decisions.”
On Wednesday, the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association released a statement on its website asking the BOE to not consider renewing Kishimoto’s employment contract.
HSTA said an overwhelming number of people who submitted written testimony to the BOE oppose Kishimoto’s contract renewal. As of midday Wednesday, a total of 24 entities and people opposed her contract renewal. Two people submitted testimony supporting her for another term leading Hawai‘i’s public schools.
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said the union’s position hasn’t been swayed by BOE deferring the discussion.
“The HSTA maintains its position that the BOE should not renew the superintendent’s contract, and we urge the BOE to take this action at its next meeting,” Rosenlee said Thursday.
The board of directors of the principals’ union also submitted testimony on the subject. “A system of support in a large organization such as the DOE requires clear, open, timely and consistent communication of school-related initiatives, programs and compliance requirements,” HGEA Unit 6 said in their written testimony.
“Educational officers cannot perform and lead when communication is poor and information is inconsistent or lacks clarity, leading to confusion.”
The principals’ union said public schools need a superintendent and leadership team that will ensure decisions include consultation from those on the “front line,” guidance and direction that’s clearly communicated and resources that are readily available and provided when decisions are announced.
Stephanie Shinno, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.