(BIVN) – Disagreement intensified on Tuesday between the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association and the Hawaiʻi Department of Education over plans to return to school in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the HSTA held a news conference to say it “is alarmed by the lack of transparency and public notification about coronavirus cases at Hawaii’s public schools.” HSTA wrote:
Over the last few days, teachers across the state have contacted HSTA to report confirmed COVID-19 cases at five schools. In each of these cases, teachers were notified, but parents and the greater public were not. This is happening less than one week before students are supposed to return for face-to-face learning and testing on school campuses.
At a Hawaii State Board of Education (BOE) meeting, BOE members expressed disappointment that they and the public had not been told of six coronavirus cases on school campuses during summer school. The incidents we’ve learned about over the last few days show neither the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) nor the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is informing the public about cases at all.
In an email to school staff in recent days, one principal wrote, “Because DOH is busy with an increased caseload we have done initial notifications to those we feel might have been in close contact and they have been approved for telework for a two week period as a precautionary measure.”
“Our principals are not contact tracers and have not been trained to be contact tracers,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “It begs the question: Has the governor been informed? If yes, why has the governor kept the information secret? If no, are plans to bring students back to campuses based on accurate information?”
HSTA went on to say that “since the HIDOE is not disclosing which campuses have positive coronavirus cases, it’s important for the public to know these are the five schools that reported COVID-19 positive cases on their campuses since Aug. 6”, which the union says are:
- Campbell High
- Hilo Intermediate
- Kapolei Middle
- Moanalua Elementary
- Moanalua High
HSTA also said that “between July 31 and Aug. 5, we also have reports of educators quarantining because of confirmed COVID-19 cases on four other campuses”, which are:
- Iliahi Elementary
- Kaala Elementary
- Leilehua High
- Waialae Elementary Public Charter School
“Are there other schools with active cases?” the union asked. “When that happens, will the HIDOE and DOH let people know?”
The Hawaiʻi DOE disputes the HSTA claim that there has been a lack of transparency. A media availability has been planned with Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto for 3:30 p.m. today. However, in advance of Kishimoto’s statement, the DOE released this:
Timely notification was made to the impacted school community for each positive COVID-19 case at a HIDOE school or office. This is consistent with the Department’s protocols for notifying school communities about any health or safety threat that occurs on a campus. The Department followed its procedures on internal notification, communication to health officials, cleaning and sanitization of facilities, and informing impacted staff, students and/or vendors.
The state Department of Health is the lead agency in terms of notifying individuals who were possibly exposed. If a case rises to a level requiring immediate, broader notification to the public, the Department will respond accordingly.
The Hawaiʻi DOE went on to provide a breakdown of the COVID-19 case count by complex area, explaining the related notifications that went out in each case. The DOE did not identify a case in any of the three Hawaiʻi island complex areas. That includes zero (0) cases reported in the Hilo-Waiakea complex area, which conflicts with the information shared by the HSTA claiming that there was a reported COVID-19 positive case on the Hilo Intermediate School campus.
“With cases starting to bubble up across our state, each school is scrambling to put something into place because the Department of Health is proving that they are not up to the task. This is despite their assurances that they had everything under control. We know now that that is not the case,” said HSTA Vice President Osa Tui Jr. “This, unfortunately, comes as no surprise to our members as they see first hand that the promises of safety for students and personnel. They’re all shibai. Many schools cannot acquire the PPE (personal protective equipment) that they need to do their jobs in a safe manner, especially for many of our neighbor island schools. Assertions that many of the cleaning protocols that are being put into place are not likely to be done in a way that ensures safety.”