(BIVN) – Following Governor David Ige’s news conference on Tuesday afternoon, held to announce modified restrictions on Oʻahu that the State hopes will slow the spread of COVID-19, the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association responded with a livestreamed news conference of its own.
HSTA president Corey Rosenlee called for additional action to keep schools and communities safe. He stated:
The governor’s decision today to call for 28 days of restrictions on Oahu leaves very important decisions unresolved. There are still no metrics from the Department of Health and Department of Education on the requirements for safely reopening schools or when they should close. We are also concerned with the governor’s exceptions to our public school system. In order to reduce transmission, teachers should be allowed to work from home and no students should be coming on campus. Otherwise, he leaves gaping holes in these restrictions.
The HSTA has been advocating for 100-percent distance learning for all students across the state through at least the first quarter to minimize the potential for the coronavirus to spread through school populations.
School administrators, educators, and staff have been working on-campus since June 26. Since then the HSTA has received reports of at least 23 schools with COVID-19 cases involving a school employee or student or, in one case, a campus visitor.
Many schools across the state made the wise choice to forgo face-to-face meetings this week, opting for grab-and-go distance learning material pickup operations. But some still welcomed students on campuses for hours Monday and Tuesday posing serious health and safety risks to their school’s community and the overall public.
Special education students cannot be left out
Despite the critical threat of COVID-19, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) continues to insist that many students, including fully self-contained (FSC) students with special needs, require face-to-face instruction. Yet many FSC teachers across the state say they are deeply concerned about having a large number of adults and children confined to a single classroom. FSC students are often in the same room with teachers, educational assistants, nurses, and other staff, which creates unsafe conditions that invite COVID-19 to spread.
COVID-19 does not discriminate, and students with special needs are equally at risk for exposure and transmission as regular education students. In these unprecedented circumstances, we cannot leave them, and the educators who serve them, out to dry.
The Department of Education is still allowing vulnerable students on campus. The DOE defines vulnerable students as special education students, English language learners, homeless students, and disadvantaged students, which account for 57% of all students. Can we really claim that we are doing distance learning for our schools if this many students can potentially be on campus?
Classroom teachers must be allowed the option to telework
The HIDOE expects all classroom teachers to report to campus, even when schools are in distance-learning mode. Telework has been at the discretion of the principal, and we are hearing of many instances where teachers’ requests have been denied. This provision must change immediately. Teachers who wish to telework must be able to do so in order to properly reduce the number of individuals on a single campus.
The HSTA is still pursuing legal action, which includes filing a prohibited practice complaint and petition for declaratory order and injunctive relief with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. On Monday, the HSTA filed a class grievance to ensure health and safety are at the forefront of all decision-making for our schools.