The Hawaii teachers union called for the public school reopening date to be postponed until critical questions about safety procedures are answered by the state Department of Education and state Department of Health.
Public schools are scheduled to resume on August 4th. The union did not immediately suggest another date.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee expressed a lack of confidence in the DOE plan to return students to the classroom.
“We are two weeks away from our buildings being open students yet critical questions still are unanswered,” he said.
“Educators are still confused and unclear about the measures needed to open up our schools. We need to take our time and get things right.”
One of HSTA’s main concerns is the lack of details on closing schools if students or teachers become infected by COVID-19.
The DOE plan discusses creating “ohana bubbles” within the school, which are meant to keep the same groups of children together to limit contact with others and make contact tracing easier.
However, teachers remain concerned about the ability to maintain these bubbles when sports and extracurricular activities resume.
The teachers union also want more training for teachers before students return to classes.
Some schools offered training for teachers over the summer regarding safety measures and distance learning, but it was optional.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green agreed with HSTA and called on the health department to provide written guidance that the teachers seek within the next week.
“They have to get a plan to them this week. Otherwise, the school reopening day will be jeopardized,” he said.
“You can't ask up to 13,000 educators to go and be exposed potentially to a very infectious virus without clear knowledge on how often we can test them. How will we be tracing them? How will we know what the quick threshold is to shut down the bubble and restart two weeks later? These are some pretty basic questions which I would expect the Department of Health to jump on and give them answers to.”
DOH Director Bruce Anderson said a readiness assessment tool for schools provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in line with the department’s recommendations. He is expecting more CDC guidance later this week that he will pass onto the Department of Education.
However, Anderson thinks schools should only reopen if they feel prepared.
“If the schools aren't 100% ready to open by August 4, we can't support that opening. The schools have to be ready, disease levels got to be down to a point acceptable before we can support that,” he said.
“If they're not ready then there's only three options. I think they'll either have to push back the start date for the entire system or they could adjust it by complex area. Each area may be ready at different times and be in a different state of readiness. They may be able to open schools on a school-by-school basis as each school becomes ready -- it’s really up to DOE how to best open the schools.”
He said the health department is still working on determining the number of COVID-19 cases that would trigger schools to shut down. Those numbers are expected this week.
A spokesperson from the DOE said that as of now, schools will still reopen on August 4th, but the department is willing to revise the plan should the situation call for it.