DOE and teachers’ union fight back to in-person learning exclusively

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Governor David Ige and the State Department of Education continue to advocate that their Safe Back to School program will create a healthy environment for teachers and students to resume full in-person learning in schools. public schools in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association strongly disagrees.

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Ige held a press conference on Monday afternoon, during which he described the four prongs of the DOE plan. They are as follows:

  • Vaccination: Promote COVID-19 vaccination among all eligible faculty, staff, and students aged 12 and over.
  • Stay home in case of illness: Professors, staff and students are asked to stay home in the event of illness. The Delta variant is highly transmissible, and everyone has to work to break the chain of transmission.
  • Hide inside: Schools will ensure that there is correct and consistent masking inside.
  • Hand hygiene: Good hand hygiene will be promoted in schools. Faculty, staff, and students will be strongly encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and water, or at least use hand sanitizer.

“In-person learning is, for most students, essential to academic and social success and general well-being,” said the governor. “We also know that it will take the entire community to make in-person learning safe for the 165,000 students and their families, and safe for the 13,000 teachers and other staff, in the state’s 257 public schools. . “

Dr Elizabeth Char, director of the Hawaii Department of Health, said an increase in the number of coronaviruses will occur regardless of when the state decides to send its students back to school because the Bringing 180,000 people together on different campuses will lead to the inevitable spread of the virus.

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“We believe at this point that the benefits… for the children of going back to school far outweigh the risk,” Char said.

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Osa Tui Jr., chairman of HSTA, took issue with the arguments made by Char and Ige on Monday, pointing out that Hawaii is currently facing its worst outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic began nearly a year ago. year and a half. The triple-digit number of cases has been identified statewide over the past two weeks and is counting, with a few days over the weekend setting all-time highs by surpassing the 400 infections identified in a benchmark period of 24 time.

“We were disappointed to learn today that the concerns of parents and educators have not been addressed as the DOE dives headfirst into their plans,” Tui said. “Just to say that schools are safe places doesn’t mean it is. With 25% of new cases being children, this is extremely worrying. Our students under 12 have no way to get vaccinated, but we are ready to send them to schools on buses and on playgrounds as this extremely contagious strain of COVID (the Delta variant) spreads . “

DOE Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi stressed that all schools strictly adhere to safety protocols and uniform mitigation strategies in place.

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“In-person learning contributes to the overall well-being of our students,” said Hayashi, emphasizing social and emotional support resources, food security through meal programs and after-school activities. “Right now, the state is open for business without any other industry being closed. Our schools are also ready to open and once again we have shown that it is safe to do so. “

There is little hard evidence that the DOE can protect students or teachers, as most have yet to re-enter the classroom with each other. Although conversely, it also means that there is little evidence that the DOE cannot protect them – a reality that is likely to make the first month or so of classes a battle for public perception on the. safety of a return to in-person learning. is in fact.

Tui countered Hayashi, saying that although schools are required to adhere to current safety protocols, many of the safety measures from the past year no longer exist, such as the mandatory implementation of certain levels of social distancing and installing shields between students while eating in close quarters of the cafeteria. He argued that this made no sense given the growing number of cases and a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 resulting in new infections across the state.

Konawaena High School. Courtesy photo.

Tui claimed that there had previously been reports of DOE HSTA members mishandling large group gatherings when it came to mask warrants. And Hayashi himself said in Monday’s press conference that the DOE and DOH have yet to establish a standard safety protocol for sports activities affiliated with the school, despite the start of practices for several students. in a few days.

While Tui has pointed out that the DOE’s safety message and some of its health protocols, or the lack thereof, seem incongruous, HSTA is not without its own inconsistencies.

Asked Monday, Tui said about 80% of Hawaii’s 13,500 teachers are vaccinated. However, he remained hesitant to engage his union in a paradigm like the one Governor Ige envisions, which would introduce a mandate requiring all teachers to be vaccinated before entering a classroom.

Tui said he was not sure that a vaccination mandate, like the one that many healthcare providers across the state announced Monday they will be implementing for employees, makes sense for teachers if students and / or other department employees were not also mandated to get the blows.

“We are definitely exploring the requirement to vaccinate employees statewide,” Ige said, noting that his administration is monitoring and learning as the federal government implements a vaccination requirement for all of its employees nationwide. . “We are also exploring this option for state and county workers.”

Whether that vaccination mandate comes or when, the governor bluntly said on Monday that he did not expect Hawai’i to ever return to 100% distance education.

“I don’t believe there is a number or a hard cut at this point that would be a trigger to shut everything down completely,” Char said, addressing a question about what might bring DOE back to distance learning options. . “I don’t think we come up with a specific number just because there are so many factors. “

Colleges and high schools will set up vaccination clinics to encourage vaccinations. Schools will also have CO2 monitors to let teachers know when levels get high and fresh air circulation measures need to be implemented to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

“The department has taken an inventory of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and other equipment that we need to keep students safe, and we have an adequate supply of them,” said Hayashi.

Here again, Tui contradicted the acting superintendent, saying some teachers have already complained about a lack of PPE and were forced to pay for them out of pocket, despite the DOE’s claims.

The official school year for students in Hawaii begins tomorrow, Tuesday, August 3.


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