State Teachers Union, Board of Education Question DOE's Reopening Guidelines

Jun 5, 2020

The state Department of Education recently released guidelines on reopening public schools. However, several members of the state Board of Education and the state teachers union took issue with some of the procedures on Thursday.

Spacing desks three feet apart and wearing masks on campus were some examples of the guidance DOE gave schools to reopen in the fall.

However, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee questioned some of the guidelines.

“The first concern that came up was the idea of only doing three feet of separation,” he said. “I understand everyone in the public, they want to go back to school and they want school to start. They understand how important it is. But we don't control the environment, the coronavirus does.

"And if we go to school and we just try to jam pack all the kids the way it used to be into classrooms, then the only thing that we can be sure about is that schools will close down because someone will get sick.”

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the guidelines were driven by the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health and examples from schools outside the state.

CDC guidelines suggest six feet of separation between seats, which the DOE guidelines take into account, but only for students sitting face-to-face.

“If the Department of Health has shared something with the Department of Education that three feet is sufficient, I think that should be shared and allowed to be discussed and compared and right now HSTA has not received that information at all,” Rosenlee said.

The DOE did not immediately provide HPR with documentation from the CDC or DOH suggesting that three feet of desk separation would be sufficient.

During the Thursday BOE meeting, several board members asked if some of the guidelines, especially those regarding health and safety, should be requirements rather than suggestions.

Boardmember Kenneth Uemura also asked how the needed changes would be funded.

“I do look at the safety and some of the things you need to do and which probably include the masks, sanitation, cleaning supplies, and maybe more janitors and all this thing,” he said. 

“The question is, as we go to the fiscal side of it, have we thought about, has the superintendent thought about, who's going to be paying for this? Is that going to be on the school level? Or is that going to be on the department level?”

Kishimoto said when the state Legislature reconvenes, she will be asking for funds, but particularly to prioritize instructional time for students and provide access to education for the children of highest-need.