LIHU‘E — Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School teachers lined the sidewalk outside of their Puhi campus Tuesday morning 6 feet apart, wearing masks, modeling a safety precaution that is all-but-impossible inside their full classrooms.
Their message was clear: Students and staff deserve safer schools.
Several motorists honked and waved back with a shaka of support.
James Dingus, eighth-grade social-studies teacher and parent of two elementary-school students, sign-waved Tuesday because he wants better lines of communication between teachers and the state Department of Education.
“Last school year, there was communication that happened, but this year, there hasn’t been very much at all,” Dingus said. “If people work together, amazing things can happen. But when people try to work in isolation, it’s just much more difficult.”
Teachers are concerned that the rollout of the new in-school COVID-19 testing program will not be available at all schools.
“It is a matter of if the school is willing to hold (in-school testing) or not,” said Hawai‘i State Teachers Association President Osa Tui Jr. “A school might not be willing to do it because they don’t have the personnel. But testing on our school campuses we think is of vital importance.”
School staff members are struggling with the extra workload they have taken on this year.
Seventh-grade science teacher Sarah Kern described her workload as “horrible.”
“I was talking to a colleague the other day,” Kern said. “We’ve had to add on caffeine in the evenings, instead of just in the mornings, because teachers are just exhausted with providing that extra work to the students who have to quarantine. And it’s a lot of extra work.”
She estimates that providing work for students in quarantine adds between one and four hours per student in quarantine to her workweek.
Teachers are asking for safer conditions and want schools to remain open for in-person learning.
“HSTA doesn’t want schools to close,” said Tui. “We just want schools to have the flexibility to do what’s right and what’s necessary for their communities. Our teachers want to be with students and are happy to be with students, but we want it to be done safely.”
Similar sign-holding took place with the red-shirted HSTA members at other schools on the island, including Wilcox, Tuesday.
This story was updated at 9:05 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 29 to clarify testing programs at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.