(BIVN) – The Hawaii State Teachers Association is raising concerns after a news conference held by Governor David Ige and Hawaiʻi schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto concerning the latest plans for the 2020-21 school year.
The HSTA held a virtual news conference on Friday calling for all schools – statewide – to go to 100% distance learning for the first quarter of the new school year, as new cases of COVID-19 rise on Oʻahu.
Later that day, Governor Ige and Superintendent Kishimoto announced that only Oʻahu schools will be going to complete distance learning for the first four weeks of the new year, while school reopening plans in Hawaiʻi, Maui, and Kauaʻi Counties will continue as planned with blended learning models.
“When asked if the three public worker unions (HSTA, Hawaii Government Employees Association, and United Public Workers) were notified of these new changes, the superintendent said she had teams working with the unions,” the HSTA wrote in a post to its website. “However HSTA was not consulted nor notified prior to Friday’s announcement, and learned of the developments alongside the public. HSTA has subsequently demanded impact bargaining with the employer as the changes would have ramifications on numerous parts of our current contract.”
Part of the new Hawaiʻi Department Of Education plan for Oʻahu involves opening in three-phases. From the DOE:
- First phase, in-person training (Aug. 17-20): During the first week of school, students will physically return to campus on a coordinated and scheduled basis, determined by each individual school, to connect with their teacher, receive training on the distance learning platforms, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology. Special considerations will be given to vulnerable students and their families for more in-person access to the school and teachers. Starting on Aug. 17, Oʻahu cafeterias will be serving only grab-and-go meals; in-person dining will not be allowed. After-school programs will be suspended until students return to in-person blended learning models.
- Second phase, ready to learn (Aug. 24-Sept. 11): For the remainder of the four-week period, full distance learning will be implemented. Staff will report to their designated work sites for continued distance learning instruction. Special education services that cannot be provided in a distance learning format will be available in person. Supervised in-person learning labs at schools will be available for students who do not have WiFi access.
- Third phase, transition to blended learning (Sept. 14): DOE will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with the Governor’s Office and DOH to assess whether or not students can safely return to in-person blended learning models. If distance learning will continue for the remainder of the first quarter of school, an announcement will be made on Sept. 8.
The HSTA says it has concerns about the HIDOE’s plan to allow students to gather at schools “to connect with their teacher, receive training on the distance learning platforms, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology” until details of the plan have been properly negotiated. The union also wrote:
HSTA also disagrees with the plan’s third phase, which schedules a transition to blended learning on Sept. 14. HSTA has consistently requested that the Hawaii State Department of Health provide clear written guidance regarding the rate of positive coronavirus tests, community spread, and metrics to determine the ability of schools to resume in-person instruction safely. Today, the state offered no specific triggers for when it would be safe to reopen schools or when schools would have to close to students again. Setting an arbitrary date mid-quarter is problematic and does not meet this need.
HSTA believes all educators should be given the option to telework. Even as Oahu public school students are shifting to 100-percent distance learning, educators are still required to report to campuses and worksites. That appears to violate HSTA’s contract under Article X. Teacher Protection: “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.”
Dr. Kishimoto also said during the news conference that she has met with the Complex Area Superintendents on the Neighbor Islands to talk about the plan. Currently, the plan is to move forward with blended learning models on Hawaiʻi island.
HSTA says it disagrees with the decision to delay a move to 100-percent distance learning for neighbor-island public schools. “While case counts may be lower on the neighbor islands, returning to some form of in-person learning will still pose a health and safety risk and inevitably cause these numbers to increase,” HSTA wrote. “This risk prompted Hawaii’s three neighbor island mayors to send a letter Wednesday urging the governor to keep public school and university campuses closed for 28 days.”
HSTA cited Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, who said, “I feel strongly that we are part of one, unified school system, and all children across the state should have accessibility to learn online. We would have liked the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) plan to be a cohesive one. Kauai would like the same consideration to move to a distance learning option for our students at the start of the school year.”
“Throughout this crisis, HSTA has fought for the health and safety of our members and our keiki, from guidelines regarding physical distancing and mask wearing on our campuses to proper time and training for our educators,” the union wrote. “We can’t wait to welcome our students back to our school campuses, and will continue to advocate for the safest return for all.”