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HSTA President Calls the Reopening of Schools ‘Reckless’

August 14, 2020, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated August 14, 1:06 AM
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Corey Rosenlee. HSTA photo.

The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association announced it plans to take legal action against the state and Department of Education Thursday claiming the plan to reopen public schools is reckless and dangerous as the COVID-19 pandemic surges throughout the state.

During a press conference streamed on social media on Thursday, Corey Rosenlee, president of HSTA, announced the labor union’s plan to file a prohibited practice complaint with the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board as well as a class grievance against the state and DOE.

“This flawed reopening of plans compromises the health and safety of students, teachers, and the community,” Rosenlee said. “It’s reckless and will risk the lives of everyone.”

Distance learning, Rosenlee said, should be the model for schools statewide during the first quarter or until the Department of Health deems it safe.

The first day of school is Aug. 17. The DOE announced on Aug. 7 that O‘ahu complex area schools would be going to distance learning for the first four weeks of the new quarter due to the surging COVID-19 cases. On Aug. 11, complex areas statewide decided to follow suit.

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Rosenlee said it’s deceptive to say the first week of school will be strictly distance learning as tens of thousands of students are returning to campus to pick up devices, learn about the new tools, and receive in-person instruction.

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Ronselee said some schools have implemented a grab-and-go model where families stay in their cars to pick up the learning tools they need.

DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto responded to Rosenlee’s claims in an email Thursday afternoon stating that the plan the district is moving forward with was jointly built by HSTA.

“The union’s misleading claim that ‘tens of thousands’ of students will be receiving face-to-face learning on campuses next week is a scare tactic that follows multiple publicity stunts to create further anxiety at a time when we need sound leadership,” Kishimoto said.

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Despite the Department’s efforts to work collaboratively and productively with the teachers union, Kishimoto added, Rosenlee continues to work against what is in the best interest of Hawaii’s children under the false pretense of “Schools Our Keiki Deserve.”

“What our keiki deserve is time to train and connect with their teachers to prepare before we shift to full distance learning for the next few weeks,” the superintendent stated.

As previously announced, Kishimoto explained school leaders have designed plans to have students return to campus in a coordinated manner next week, as needed, to connect with their teachers, receive training on distance learning platforms if necessary, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology.

In many cases, schools have designated one hour a day for certain grade levels to accomplish this, while enforcing safety protocols around social distancing and face coverings.

Rosenlee said he wishes Kishimoto’s statements were reality.

“…But teachers have been telling us the exact opposite,” he stated in an email Thursday evening. “If the governor and superintendent support only having students and their parents pick up distance learning materials, they should say that. Otherwise, their claims are disingenuous and worse, dangerous.”

Kishimoto said teachers have been showing up for paid training for the past two weeks at the encouragement of Rosenlee and now he’s telling teachers not to show up for students.

“The union demanded this additional training for teachers, at a cost of nine fewer instructional days for students, but is trying to prevent students from having the same opportunity,” Kishimoto said.

Scott Miscovich, president and founder of Premier Medical Group Hawai‘i, also spoke during HSTA’s press conference. He has been leading the statewide effort to bring COVID-19 testing into all communities.

With 355 new coronavirus cases and two additional deaths reported Thursday, Miscovich said the die has been cast.

“Do we have to say anything more?” Miscovich questioned. “This is not the time to send students and teachers into this environment when we have adequate options.”

Miscovich said a classroom is a perfect place for the virus to spread.

Teachers have been back on campus full time since July 29. Kishimoto said they’ve seen no evidence of widespread transmission on any of the campuses. The district has reported on COVID-19 cases that occurred over the past few months and plans to continue to provide a weekly report moving forward.

“We will not allow Mr. Rosenlee to script out the work our principals need to do to lead, nor drive a wedge between our principals and their staff,” Kishimoto said. “Our students have physically been out of school since spring break. It’s time we all put the futures of our students first. That’s what our keiki truly deserve.”

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