LIHU’E — On Thursday, the state Board of Education heard passionate testimony about school safety and workplace burnout.
“I am disheartened that the DOE, the branch, which is supposed to put education first, is acting in a way that not only jeopardizes student health, it brings teachers to a point of burnout, stress and, ultimately, leaving the profession — something we cannot afford,” Joyce Vea, a counselor at Waimea Canyon Middle School, said in written testimony to the board.
The state Department of Education is working to get up and running several initiatives to address school safety and support learners while they are in quarantine. While these efforts address concerns, the options mostly put the burden on school staff for implementation.
The DOE is in the midst of readying a testing program that would allow students, with parental consent, to get tested weekly on campus. Testing duties will be on top of school staffs’ long list of extra responsibilities, teachers and administrators brought up in oral and written testimonial.
DOE Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami responded to the board’s concerns that this would mean more duties for school staff.
“To be clear, these are added responsibilities. And for that reason, I do want to say that it is a real, real challenge for us to institute a school-based testing. However, there is a commitment to do so,” Unebasami said.
Educators also expressed concern for facilitating learning for students in quarantine, extra cleaning, assisting with contact tracing and covering for absent teachers who are unable to get a substitute. And this is leading to teacher burnout.
Multiple teachers, including Rebecca Hadley-Schlosser, a special-education teacher at Nanaikapono Elementary School on O‘ahu, were audibly in distress while making testimony remotely to the board.
“I’m getting more concerned about how we’re going to maintain everyone’s safety while remaining fully open and in person. As a person with underlying health conditions. I am anxious and afraid,” said Hadley-Schlosser. “Burnout is real and I’m quickly approaching that stage. Retirement is looking very desirable right now.”
Hawai‘i State Teachers Association President Osa Tui Jr. demanded that the board listen to those frustrations.
“Hear the voices of thousands of school-level personnel who are struggling in our schools while the department leadership paints a rosy picture and blows smoke you know where,” Tui said.
“The burnout of school-level personnel is real, and you compromise providing our students what they need when you don’t support those who support our students,” said Tui.
While several board members expressed concern about burnout, there were no agenda items to specifically address the problem.
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.