(BIVN) – The Hawaii State Teachers Association filed a prohibited practice complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board on Tuesday over Governor David Ige’s plan directing teachers to return to public schools on March 23.
The governor announced earlier that day that “all ‘non-essential’ state government employees who can work remotely are being directed to work from home for 15 calendar days to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the Hawaii State Department of Education stated. “However, the governor explicitly stated that his directive does not apply” to the HIDOE.
“At this time, this means that all HIDOE employees are required to report to work as normal unless they feel sick, have been instructed by a health care provider to self-isolate or self-quarantine at home, or made alternative arrangements with their supervisor,” the Hawaii State Department of Education said.
But the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association (HSTA) says the state’s plan violates two key provisions of the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement:
Article X – Teacher Protection
B. Teachers shall not be required to work under unsafe or hazardous conditions or to perform tasks which immediately endanger their health and safety
G. When students are sent home from school or are not required to attend due to emergencies which endanger health or safety, teachers will not be required to remain at, nor report to, said schools.
From the HSTA:
The governor’s plan to resume instruction for students on March 30 endangers students, teachers, staff, and our larger community. It also contradicts federal and our own state guidance that people should not gather in groups of 10 or more.
During a news conference Tuesday, the governor stated that services in places of worship exceeding this amount should be suspended, that bars and clubs should close, and restaurants should only serve customers through deliveries and take-out service.
Yet Ige also said, “We believe that having schools that practice appropriate social distancing methods to create a safe and stable learning environment for our children is very important in this time for our entire community.” The governor referred to changing school schedules, assigning classes to different parts of the campus, staggering recess and lunch, and offering students’ lunch in classrooms. We strongly believe none of these options can be accomplished while still meeting current guidance.
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said, “As a teacher at Hawaii’s largest school, Campbell High, which has 3,000-plus students, I have had to teach more than 40 students in one period. I know social distancing won’t work. I have heard from kindergarten teachers who have shared that trying to stop kindergartners from touching their noses and then wanting to give you a hug is impossible.
“The Hawaii State Department of Education claims it would implement policies and procedures so that if a child shows up at school and they are ill or they have a temperature, that the HIDOE would be able to separate them from the rest of the children to reduce the risk of infection,” Rosenlee added. “We believe this is not enough. The potential for exposure has already occurred.”
The Board of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, which represents and guides private schools in the islands, today recommended that “in the interest of getting ahead of the community spread of the virus, all schools should consider closing their campuses for at least four weeks.”
HSTA is willing to consider other options during this crisis, but has informed the HIDOE that forcing teachers to return to schools next week, March 23, without students, and the week after that, March 30, with students will put the lives of educators, students, and families in danger and could help the coronavirus spread further in the islands.
The HIDOE says Superintendent Dr. Kishimoto is scheduled to meet Wednesday “with key leaders to do some critical decision making.”
Meanhile, the private Kamehameha Schools has announced that all three of its K-12 campuses and its 29 preschools will implement their respective distance learning and educational support programs when school resumes after their respective spring breaks. During this period, there will be no on-campus student instruction or student activities, the educational trust said.
“Students at all KS campuses will be receiving plans detailing their respective distance learning programs,” a Kamehameha Schools media release stated. “KS Hawai‘i, KS Maui and all KS preschools have extended their respective spring breaks so teachers and administrators may complete preparations for distance-based education before they resume on March 30.”
The following table summarizes changes to the KS academic schedule: