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Teachers Get Ready For 2020-21 School Year

August 16, 2020, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated August 15, 10:16 PM
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DOE file photo.

Sonya Porchér said the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster as Hawai‘i public school teachers shifted gears to begin the 2020-21 school year with full distance learning.

The surging COVID-19 cases on O‘ahu forced Hawai‘i Department of Education to postpone in-classroom instruction for four weeks. As a result of this decision, complex areas on the neighbor islands decided to follow suit. Instruction begins Monday.

“Initially we should’ve all gone to a virtual model,” Porchér said. “I think in the beginning they (DOE) were hopeful. I think if we started with virtual in the beginning we wouldn’t have the problem we have now.”

On Saturday Porchér, a second-grade teacher at Konawaena Elementary School said changes were shared with teachers last minute.

“We were literally told to call parents on Friday to schedule individual meetings with parents next week,” Porchér said. “Even today I’m still notifying parents.”

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Porchér is set to meet with 10 to 12 students throughout the week next week to provide them a Chrome Book for virtual learning and instructions on how to use it. The rest of her students, she said, were already signed up for the distance learning model.

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Despite the last-minute change to this year’s teaching model, Porchér feels ready and is excited to work with the new technology to educate her students.

“We just want to survive next week,” Porchér said. “I’m fine with virtual teaching; we’ll get something great out of it.”

Porchér thinks the full virtual learning will remain in place throughout the first quarter.

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Initially, the DOE planned to start the school year with a blended teaching model that included in-classroom and distance learning instruction. With the change to sole distance learning, DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto explained campuses will provide in-person instruction for special education students as well as a space for students who don’t have internet access at home.

Porchér couldn’t speak to what an internet hub would look like at her school. She doesn’t know where it would be set up or how many students could be in utilizing it at one time.

“It’s a challenge,” Porchér said. “It’s not easy for any administrator right now.”

Christine Olivera is a speech-language pathologist with a classroom in Konawaena Elementary and Kealakehe Intermediate Schools. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen on her first day of school.

“I don’t know who’s going to show up or how many kids,” Olivera said.

Olivera said teachers who work with vulnerable students weren’t given direction from the DOE and any education plan is developed on a grassroots level. Olivera said she was successfully able to provide teletherapy over the summer for half of her students.

“I don’t understand the push to go back (in-classroom instruction),” Olivera said.

Hawai‘i State Teachers Association

Corey Rosenlee. HSTA photo.

The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association has been critical of the DOE’s plan of the first four weeks of distance learning, saying there will still be in-classroom instruction occurring.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee confirmed that the union did sit down with the district to work on a reopening plan for Aug. 17 that included the blended in-person and distance learning instruction. However, Kishimoto’s announcement to move O‘ahu schools to strictly distance learning for the first four weeks was not discussed.

As a result, HSTA filed a practice complaint with the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board (HLRB) against the state and DOE. During a press conference on Thursday, Rosenlee said, it’s disingenuous for the DOE to say they’re starting the school year with distance learning when thousands of students will be going to schools for in-person instruction.

“This is not a time to open up face-to-face learning,” Rosenlee said.

Having hundreds of kids on campus is dangerous, Rosenlee explained.

If the DOE is truly behind 100% distance learning, Rosenlee would like Kishimoto and Gov. David Ige to say Monday will be a grab-and-go process for all learning materials.

“Who has to contract the disease before we go to distance learning?” Rosenlee questioned.

With the complaint filed, HLRB could respond with an injunctive order requiring the DOE to negotiate with the union any changes in working conditions due to the spike and rapid spread of COVID-19 cases.

“When students are sent home from school or are not required to attend due to emergencies which endanger health or safety, teachers will not be required to remain at, nor report to, said schools,” the complaint states.

HSTA also plans to file a class grievance next week because of violations to the HSTA collective bargaining agreement (contract) and memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached with the state in June.

Porchér agreed that students and teachers are much more vulnerable and exposed with children on campus. However, she thinks without kids at schools, the environment will be safe.

“I also think teachers don’t want to be sitting in their living rooms conducting lessons,” she said. “You don’t have access to planning and materials.”

Porchér said teachers providing distancing learning from school campuses will support the kids in seeing that their teacher is in an actual classroom.

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.

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 Hawai‘i’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.

Porchér doesn’t think Rosenlee’s comments are meant as a scare tactic.

“He is doing his best to tell what is happening and provide a broader vision if we’re not proceeding with caution,” Porchér said of Rosenlee. “It’s his right to present the facts; it can be taken however they want to take it.”

As the number of children with COVID-19 has increased, Porchér said, there’s enough information and evidence out there to make decisions tailored to each school population.

Porchér knows the upcoming school year won’t be easy, but feels ready for the challenge.

“I think we’ll be OK — as long as communication is there between the students, teachers and parents we’ll be fine,” Porchér said.

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