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Teachers union files complaint against DOE, demands department address ongoing safety concerns

Hawaii State Teachers Association HSTA.jpg
Casey Harlow
/
HPR
Teachers rallied outside of the state Department of Education administrative offices Wednesday, October 20, 2021. The HSTA filed a complaint against the DOE with the state's labor relations board demanding the department address COVID-related concerns in classrooms.

A few dozen public school teachers rallied outside the Queen Liliʻuokalani Building, headquarters to the state Department of Education and Board of Education, Wednesday afternoon.

The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association filed a prohibited practice complaint with the state's Labor Relations Board against the DOE. The union claims the department failed to discuss COVID-19 safety issues during the pandemic.

HSTA president Osa Tui, Jr. says the union was successful in a previous challenge against the department last school year. But he says the department and Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi continue to use Gov. David Ige's emergency proclamations to ignore their concerns.

"Though the governor had an emergency proclamation, which suspended Chapter 89 of Hawaiʻi's collective bargaining law, the Hawaiʻi Labor Relations Board still told the department they had to sit with us and work out issues," he said.

Over the summer, the DOE released its guidelines for a safe return to in-person learning. But the implementation of the guidelines is left to school administrators.

"A lot of our administrators are trying their best. They're absolutely doing what they can, but they don't have the guidance they need, and they're not contact tracers. They're having trouble doing this close contact identification. And that's not their job."
HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr.

But the HSTA says the department doesn't provide enough guidance or resources to schools to address issues as they arise.

"A lot of our administrators are trying their best. They're absolutely doing what they can," Tui said.

"But they don't have the guidance they need, and they're not contact tracers. They're having trouble doing this close contact identification. And that's not their job."

Tui says these flaws are partly to blame for more teachers opting to retire — worsening the state's teacher shortage. He adds that due to the shortage, the department is opting to rely heavily on substitute teachers, which he says is primarily made of up of retired educators who may be hesitant to fill in.

The union says there is no uniform guidance from the DOE when it comes to its guidelines. Tui says the department's plan could work in an ideal world.

"We don't live in a perfect world," he said. "We live where students don't follow rules, and, unfortunately, some of our adults aren't following rules as well.

"We have those issues and some of the health and safety guidelines don't speak to quarantining. Who gets quarantined? How is that process spelled out at different schools?"

Tui cites one school may quarantine a whole class if there is a positive case, while another school may just quarantine one student. He also points out that there are flaws identifying close contacts.

"We have willy-nilly going on all over the state," he said.

Interim Superintendent Hayashi issued the following statement in response to the union's action:

The Department has not received a copy of the prohibited practice complaint that the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association announced will be filed with the Hawaiʻi Labor Relations Board, and is unable to comment.

Since May 2020, the Department has been — and remains committed to — meeting monthly with the HSTA to discuss COVID-related issues and how we can provide clarity and best address concerns raised.

This has been an especially challenging year for everyone. We acknowledge all the hard work and effort that has gone into ensuring a safe learning environment for our students and staff. Schools continue to do a tremendous job doing everything within their control to diligently implement the core essential strategies set by the Department of Health. These strategies have proven extremely effective at reducing the risk of exposure on our campuses as we remain committed and focused on keeping our schools open.

The HSTA is anticipating a decision within the next 20 days from the Labor Relations Board.

A copy of the complaint can be found below.

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