HSTA Against New District Metrics Presented by HIDOE, DOH
The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA) is adamantly against the new metrics presented by the Department of Health Thursday, which provide guidance for appropriate learning models for the remainder of the academic year.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many of Hawai‘i’s students to start to the 2020-21 school year via distance learning. However, the new metrics provided by the DOH could allow some schools to return to a blended-learning model by the second quarter, which runs from Oct. 12 to Dec. 18.
“Our guidance is based on mitigation strategies promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approaches to school reopening that have been implemented in other states,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, deputy state epidemiologist, who spearheaded the development of the document. “We recognize one size does not fit all, so instead of blanket statewide guidance, we developed a regional approach because disease transmission rates can differ on each island. This empowers school leaders to be responsive in the context of what is happening in their community.”
Schools may choose from among three different learning models: learning from home in which students and teachers engage in virtual classes only, traditional in-person learning in the classroom, or a hybrid blended learning model that combines both home learning and in-person classroom learning.
The learning models are based on community transmission levels with different thresholds established for elementary and secondary students. This metric is the number of positive COVID-19 cases per 10,000 over a 14-day period by island. DOH updates this metric every other week in posts that can be found here.
During a press conference via Zoom, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said the union wasn’t consulted on the new guidance and that seems it was just “thrown together.”
“These metrics are so far outside the norm that it will put not only our teachers and students at risk, but the community at risk,” Rosenlee said.
Since the beginning of the school year, Rosenlee said, HIDOE has had 89 coronavirus cases identified in schools. According to HIDOE statistics from Sept. 5-11, 14 cases were diagnosed between employees, students, and visitors to schools.
If the district plans to try to bring back for in-person instruction next quarter, Rosenlee said, it’s going to put everyone in jeopardy.
“I will tell you, this is something we’re going to fight,” he said.
The one thing communities have learned about this pandemic, Rosenlee added, is they have to listen to the science.
“The question facing the entire nation is can we safely open schools?” he questioned. “I would love them to cite the metrics where the research was effective.”
Rosenlee said there is no major school district that he has seen successfully reopen.
At this point, Rosenlee said, there has been no district in the nation that has reopened to in-person instruction where there wasn’t an eruption of cases, which ultimately led to the distance learning model.
“What we have to look (at) is the data,” the HSTA president said. “Right now, the model has told us it’s dangerous to open to in-person learning.”
The guidance includes a checklist of requirements for blended and in-person instruction. Rosenlee has no confidence that the list will be followed and that the district will only look at the metrics.
“Teachers have reported across the state they don’t feel safe,” he said. “There’s been no accounting to what’s happening at these schools.”
Rosenlee suggests that the district take things quarter by quarter.
“Our teachers and keiki are not guinea pigs,” he said.
Rosenlee wasn’t blind to the fact that there are parents who are struggling with distance learning.
“For any parent, of course, they want their children in school,” Rosenlee said, adding teachers want that as well.
“(However), we need to act on our collective needs together,” he said.
Rosenlee said he knows there’s a lot of anxiety among HSTA members, adding that he will ask the Board of Education to reject these metrics.