(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association expressed its opposition on Thursday to a Department of Education guideline that would allow classroom desks to be spaced three feet apart when students return to school in August.
Yesterday, the Hawaiʻi DOE released its school reopening plan, which includes “guidance around learning models and health safeguards” in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Bruce Anderson, the director of the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, appeared in a video release by the DOE. “Department of Health has worked very closely with Department of Education,” Anderson said in the video, “and in coming up with protocols and guidelines, our recommendations are based in large part on guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control that apply nationwide to schools as we look at reopening.”
Anderson later appeared in an online video presentation with Hawaiʻi DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto. The controversial spacing guideline was discussed.
“A common question we’ve been receiving is how students will social distance in their classrooms,” Kishimoto said during the video, talking to State health officials through online videoconference. “The standard measure has been 6 feet, but our guidelines are at least 3 feet between seats, or at least 6 feet if facing one another in a group setting. Can you clarify this particular guideline?”
“Within the classroom, we have opportunities to separate individuals and maintain the separation,” health director Anderson answered, “and we’ve actually debated for some time whether separation should be strictly 6 feet or whether we can allow for less. With people facing each other, we feel very strongly that you should have a 6 foot distance between an individual for prolonged periods of time, and that would be a criteria that I don’t think anyone would dispute. But if you’re looking at a situation where students are facing the front of the classroom and they’re mindful of the need to maintain distance, then we believe that less than 6 feet might be desirable. We would you certainly want to keep it at least 3 feet.”
“There is no clear formula on this,” Anderson said. “We’re learning as we go.”
After the DOE announcement was made, the Hawaiʻi State teachers Association held an online news conference. HSTA President Corey Rosenlee wasted no time getting right to the matter of the 3-feet spacing issue.
“Placing students desks only three feet apart is ludicrous and dangerous,” Rosenlee said, “and puts our keiki, their families, and our teachers at risk. This will only ensure Hawaiʻi will have to close our schools again and go back to a 100% virtual model.”
“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, recommends that school space seating desks at least 6 feet apart, when feasible, to reduce risk. The CDC characterizes students who are not spaced apart as being at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19. That is why the midterm bargaining HSTA just completed with the state on Saturday contains the following language and I quote:
“… schools and work sites shall work to minimize the risk of COVID-19 … by maintaining six feet or two arms lengths, which ever is longer, of separation between and among students and staff members in meeting spaces and exterior school grounds whenever possible.
“Returning to a 3-foot policy after coming to an agreement with HSTA on a 6-foot standard is disingenuous,” Rosenlee stated, “and violates the resolution passed by the Board of Education that claims that the health and safety of students and staff is the priority, and thoughtful consideration of the board’s guiding principles of giving hope, acting with kindness, and working togetherness are the fundamental drivers to reopen schools. This is not making the health and safety of our students and staff the priority, and by mandating these policies and opposition to HSTA’s agreement is working without hope, without kindness, and definitely working without togetherness.”
Rosenlee asked HSTA members to contact the Hawaiʻi Board of Education about the matter.