(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association is speaking out as the new school year gets underway, while COVID-19 cases spike across the islands.
On Tuesday, Governor David Ige signed Executive Order 21-05, setting statewide limits for social gatherings, restaurants, bars, and social establishments due to the dramatic rise in COVID cases, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant. The Governor’s order did not change the approach taken by schools, which are emphasizing in-person learning as the new school year begins. The HSTA says it has heard from members who are “frustrated at the hypocrisy of this order”.
The teachers union expressed its concerns in a video message to its members, delivered on Wednesday by HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr. Here is the transcript:
Yesterday, Gov. David Ige issued an executive order that prohibits indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people. Schools and classrooms were not included. Many of you reached out, frustrated at the hypocrisy of this order, and I agree completely. You’re dealing with classes in the upper 20s, 30s, even 40s, and there isn’t enough space to maintain safe distancing among your students.
The governor and Department of Education insist in their public announcements that classrooms and schools are safe spaces. While I’m sure you’re doing everything in your power to keep students safe, you are being asked to do the impossible. Cases continue to rise and more and more children are getting infected.
Our latest Question of the Week, which you can find in Friday’s Member Matters email, asks: What would you want the community and decision-makers to know about how safe or unsafe things are where you work?
The feedback you’ve sent so far matches what state lawmakers are also hearing. Protocols for masking and social distancing are not being followed, and both teachers and students are being put at unnecessary risk of infection.
You’ve also let us know that as cases spread and entire classes are being directed to quarantine, teachers are being told to switch to distance learning. That is not supposed to happen.
Last year, we had a memorandum of understanding that allowed schools to switch to alternative modes of instruction, including distance and hybrid. But the state refused to bargain a new MOU for this school year, insisting instead that all schools would return to in-person learning with very limited alternatives. That means if a positive COVID case impacts your classroom and students are quarantined, there are no provisions for distance instruction. And you do not have to provide that instruction since the employer would not negotiate any modifications to your working conditions.
The state has become notorious in its constant failure to discuss or even consider important details in a timely manner. The governor’s recent mandate to vaccinate or undergo routine COVID testing, for example, fails to explain exactly how it will be implemented. How do you provide proof of vaccination? And if you can’t, when and how will tests be required? What happens if you don’t get your results on time due to the state’s inability to meet skyrocketing demand? Or if you can’t access a testing site at all because you live in a remote area? We still don’t have these answers, and we cannot allow this type of thoughtlessness to continue as we strive to do what’s best for our students.
This Friday, our next Member Matters email will include a letter to interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi demanding that the department sit down with us for impact bargaining. I encourage you to sign on to that letter so that together, we can tell the employer that what they’re doing isn’t working. That you will not tolerate unilateral implementation. That you insist on a strong working partnership to ensure the safety of every teacher and every student.
Then, next week Thursday, Aug. 19, the Board of Education will hold its general business meeting. I hope you’ll join me in submitting testimony to tell board members about all the stresses and struggles you’re experiencing. Explain how the state’s poor planning hinders your ability to properly support your students. Or how their last-minute distance learning options punish families who wish to keep their children safely at home, or are forced to do so when a positive case occurs.
If you haven’t already done so, I also encourage you to go back to last week’s email and answer our Question of the Week. Your responses will help us spotlight what’s really going on in our schools. I also encourage you to wear Red for Ed on Tuesdays to show solidarity. If you don’t yet have an HSTA T-shirt, please contact your school-level leaders.
It is important for us to come together and stand up for the well-being of our students and our communities. Mahalo.