(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association held a news conference raising concerns with the State’s guidance for reopening schools in advance of Thursday’s Hawaiʻi Board of Education meeting.
“The state’s guidance, while citing the federal Centers for Disease Control, does not use the CDC’s metrics,” said HSTA president Corey Rosenlee. “Instead, it looks like the numbers to reopen schools were used to justify sending students back to campuses across the state, instead of following the CDC’s recommendations.”
The metrics are calculated by island, and were part of a 28-page health department guidance document that was introduced on September 17. From the State news release on the metrics:
Schools may choose from among three different learning models: learning from home in which students and teachers engage in virtual classes only, traditional in-person learning in the classroom, or a hybrid blended learning model that combines both home learning and in-person classroom learning.
The learning model is based on community transmission levels with different thresholds established for elementary and secondary students. This metric is the number of positive COVID-19 cases per 10,000 over a 14-day period by island. The Department of Health updates this metric every other week and posts this on its website.
It is important to note this metric is different from the number of cases by county or the number of year-to-date cases by county that are also reported by the health department through daily updates.
For example, Oʻahu, which has a population of 974,563, had a total of 1,937 cases from September 1 to 14. This translates to 19.9 cases per 10,000 for Oʻahu for that 14-day period. Based on the community transmission thresholds, both elementary and secondary schools should consider adopting a blended learning model.
“We are concerned the Complex Area Superintendents across the state are already using these metrics to determine whether schools can be reopened or not,” Rosenlee said, adding that on Monday, two Complex Area Superintendents on Oʻahu told parents that they plan on bringing some students back to campuses in the second quarter.
Rosenlee held the news conference to “show you the vast difference between what the CDC is recommending and what the Hawaiʻi Department of Health put out, and why this is dangerous to both our teachers and our students.” Rosenlee referenced this presentation slide, which compares the DOH metrics on the left to the CDC metrics on the right.
“The DOH is willing to allow 10 times as many cases in the community as the CDC numbers,” Rosenlee said. “In fact, if you look at the numbers, the CDC would – for its second category – allow 6 to 15 [cases per 10,000 individuals on the island] for in-person and blended for secondary, which the CDC would only have 0.5 to less than two. In fact, the first three categories for the CDC are all only in the Department of Health’s first category for in-person learning.”
The implications for the Hawaiʻi island schools were shown in another presentation slide, with green representing a recommendation for in person learning, the yellow-green / yellow / orange representing some degree of blended learning, and red representing distance learning.
“The department of health has listed Oʻahu as having 19.9 cases per 10,000,” Rosenlee explained. “According to the Department of Health, that allows for blended learning for all students, which allows [Complex Area Superintendents] to bring students back on campuses. If we use the CDC numbers, it would be much more safer and more limited. It’d be blended for elementary students and learn-from-home for all secondary students. But it is only 0.1 case away from distance learning for all students and this 0.1 case matters.”
“The teachers in Hawaiʻi have also expressed their concern that the constant vacillation between distance learning and hybrid learning has made it both difficult for teachers and students,” the HSTA president said, “and that we cannot be going back and forth between each one.”
Many schools around the state have already decided to continue with distance learning through the second quarter.
On Thursday, October 1, the Hawaiʻi Board of Education of Education will hold a special meeting to vote on a proposal to temporarily suspend changes to in-person or hybrid learning at schools, set up clearer reopening guidelines, and consider a measure making it easier for public school teachers to be granted telework options during the pandemic.
The HSTA wrote about the action item last week, and quoted BOE chair Catherine Payne:
“The Department of Education has not yet adopted or incorporated Guidance for Schools COVID-19 into the Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan, the Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan Principal Handbook, or the Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan Health & Safety Handbook.
I recommend that the Board direct the Superintendent to incorporate into the applicable guidance documents: (1) minimum thresholds and criteria for transitioning schools to hybrid or in-person learning, (2) clear decision-making responsibilities for such transitions, and (3) reasonable notification to families and staff of impending transitions.
I also recommend that the Board suspend changes to instructional delivery modes (i.e., distance, hybrid, and in-person learning) for all schools until the Superintendent incorporates the directives stated herein into the applicable guidance documents.”
HSTA also reported that Payne’s measure proposes this directive, among many others: “The Superintendent must request a rationale from the DOH on how it determined its Learning Model Parameters, including any scientific data on which it is based and an explanation of how it aligns with CDC’s “Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making,” and the Superintendent must include this rationale in the Reopening Plan for the purposes of transparency and addressing public concerns.”