LIHU‘E — The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association voiced the concerns that conditions in schools are unsafe for both staff and students in an open letter to state and education officials this week.
According to the letter, “health and safety guidelines, including proper masking and social distancing, go unenforced in our schools. Reporting and notification remain inconsistent. A lack of personal protective equipment, improper ventilation, and other outstanding issues are not being addressed.”
The union held a virtual press conference yesterday featuring HSTA president Osa Tui, Jr., who said principals also share in educator frustrations as they try and juggle additional duties without support.
“Our teachers are trying their hardest to keep their students as safe as possible, but it is a herculean task that has been placed upon their shoulders,” Tui said. “And the frustration is overwhelming.”
The state’s Department of Education website is updated weekly with COVID-19 data, but HSTA wants to see that information available daily.
“We find it concerning that the department puts it out on Friday afternoon. You know one of those Friday afternoon news dumps that they don’t want people to know,” Tui said.
Union members also questioned the accuracy of the information on the site.
“A lot of our members are saying, ‘Hey, we had a case earlier this week and it is not even listed on there,’” Tui said. Other errors on the website included mislabeling schools on incorrect islands, increasing skepticism about the data.
HSTA hopes that a collective bargaining agreement can lead to a more consistent response and reporting process.
Lisa Morrison, HSTA secretary-treasurer and Maui High arts and communication teacher, expressed concern that administrators are making decisions regarding quarantine without the benefit of seeing the interactions that happen in a classroom throughout the day.
“As a teacher myself, I know that my seating chart does not reveal everything that happens within my classroom, so even though the administrators are the ones being tasked with identifying quarantine and close contacts, it’s going to happen inconsistently from school to school and from classroom to classroom,” Morrison said.
However, the union is not asking for a full return to distance learning. “No, that is not going to be the right thing,” says Tui. “But we have to have safety protocols in place. Right now, the Department of Education makes all the rules with regards to what in the health and safety guidance. And if something doesn’t go right we have nothing to hold them accountable to.”
Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi responded with this statement:
“In-person learning is the best education model for successful student outcomes, and we are confident that our schools provide a safe environment for students and staff.
“It is our duty and responsibility to keep our schools open for students who need us not only for in-person learning, but for socialization, services tied to mental health, and even meals.”
The full statement can be found below.
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.