(BIVN) – The union that represents Hawaiʻi teachers is taking action against the Hawaiʻi Department of Education over “flawed school reopening plans that compromise the health and safety of our schools and greater communities.”
UPDATE – (3:40 p.m.) – This story has been updated to include a response from Hawaiʻi DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto. Her full statement has been posted below the original story.
The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association held an online news conference on Thursday. HSTA president Corey Rosenlee was joined by Dr. Scott J. Miscovich of the Premier Medical Group, and Eric Seitz, an attorney for special education students. All three take issue with Hawaiʻi DOE plans “to continue to bring students physically to campuses next week through Sept 14” despite moving to a distancing learning model for the first four weeks of the new school year.
The news conference was held on the same day the State of Hawaiʻi announced a new, single-day record for reported cases.
From the HSTA:
These dangerous plans for in-person learning, along with other violations of our agreement, prompted HSTA to pursue legal action on two fronts. The HSTA will file a prohibited practice complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board (HLRB) against the state of Hawaii. The HSTA requested impact bargaining with the HIDOE over the changing community conditions (with COVID-19 spreading) and the newly modified instructional plans. The state has refused HSTA’s demand to bargain over the change in working conditions, especially in light of the exponential growth in the spread of COVID-19 and infection at more than nine schools since the beginning of this month and/or failing to bargain in good faith. The HIDOE inappropriately claims that there is no significant change in working conditions, buildings are open, schools are safe and students can return and teachers will need to report to their worksites next week.
HSTA is also requesting that the HLRB issue a declaratory ruling that the state’s planned action violates the relevant state workplace safety rules by forcing teachers into a hazardous workplace, and an injunction to prevent the state from violating these rules.
HSTA will also file a class grievance on behalf of Bargaining Unit 05 employees because of violations to the HSTA collective bargaining agreement (contract) and memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached with the state of Hawaii in June.
The state committed to language in our MOU that “in-person school will resume in conjunction with written guidance from the State of Hawaii Department of Health (DOH).” In particular, the HSTA has requested written guidance on triggers and standards which the DOH has determined when schools are safe to open for in-person learning, when they should close and/or should reopen after a closure. Despite repeated requests, the DOH has not provided written guidance on this crucial issue. In another troubling development, the DOH has been unable to properly support the contract tracing process for campuses with positive COVID-19 cases in a timely and effective manner.
Unfortunately, despite all of our efforts to date, the state seems determined to return students to buildings next week. While some schools are staggering small groups of students on campuses, others plan to bring hundreds of students back for four days starting Monday. We also know there are still reports of teachers not feeling prepared for the return of students including a lack of support for proper cleaning, access to personal protective equipment PPE, and/or written procedures for proper health screening of students.
HSTA is also encouraging concerned teachers to explore their leave options, and to wear black on Monday, August 17, because “black is the color many people wear to funerals, and that is exactly what will happen if students and teachers meet in-person on campuses Monday and beyond,” the union wrote.
HSTA says it will also ask the Hawaiʻi Board of Education to take action at its August 20 meeting “to ensure 100-percent distance learning for all students on all islands until at least the end of the first quarter, and to assure that teachers have the option of teleworking.”
Attorney Eric Seitz is taking another legal avenue. “I have notified the Attorney General’s office that I intend to file a lawsuit against the State of Hawaiʻi to stop students from going to school on Monday,” said Seitz. “I do that sadly, because I’ve been receiving calls and communications from parents of special education students in particular, about how desperate they are to have their kids at home and have to meet the needs of their students without any help from school officials, despite federal laws that require assistance to be given to children with disabilities,” he said.
Still, Seitz said, “it is beyond debate that what is being proposed for next week is unsafe.”
UPDATE – (3:40 p.m.) – In response to today’s HSTA news conference, Hawaiʻi DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto made this statement:
The Hawaii State Teachers Association today threatened to sue the state and the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE), alleging that our school reopening plan is “reckless” — a plan they jointly helped to build — and that our campuses are not safe for students.
Despite the Department’s efforts to work collaboratively and productively with the teachers union, its president Corey Rosenlee continues to work against what is in the best interest of Hawaii’s children under the false pretense of “Schools Our Keiki Deserve.”
What our keiki deserve is time to train and connect with their teachers to prepare before we shift to full distance learning for the next few weeks.
The union’s misleading claim that “tens of thousands” of students will be receiving face-to-face learning on campuses next week is a scare tactic that follows multiple publicity stunts to create further anxiety at a time when we need sound leadership.
As previously announced, our school leaders have designed plans to have students return to campus in a coordinated manner next week, as needed, to connect with their teacher, receive training on distance learning platforms if necessary, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology. In many cases, schools have designated one hour a day for certain grade levels to accomplish this, while enforcing safety protocols around social distancing and face coverings.
Mr. Rosenlee encouraged teachers to show up for paid training days over the past two weeks, and now he is telling teachers not to show up for students. The union demanded this additional training for teachers, at a cost of nine fewer instructional days for students, but is trying to prevent students from having the same opportunity.
Teachers have been back on campus full time since July 29, and we have no evidence of widespread transmission on any of our campuses. We have had individual cases at individual campuses, as we reported earlier this week, and will continue to report on weekly moving forward.
Over the summer months, when we had over 8,000 students engaging in some type of face-to-face or blended summer program, in addition to staff who supported these activities, we saw one case each at six campuses.
We will not allow Mr. Rosenlee to script out the work our principals need to do to lead, nor drive a wedge between our principals and their staff. Our students have physically been out of school since spring break. It’s time we all put the futures of our students first. That’s what our keiki truly deserve.