Teachers union isn’t on the same page as DOE on what ‘social distancing’ means

Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 9:36 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 9:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Kapolei Middle School on Thursday, the state demonstrated what schools will look like this year, with stepped up cleaning and disinfecting, lunches handed out whole, and classrooms arranged for social distancing.

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said health guidelines allow for adjustments.

“Six feet is good practice. Certainly, everyone’s familiar with that,” she said.” But they’re also saying we could modify down to 3 feet of spacing as long as students are facing forward.”

That drew swift criticism from the Hawaii State Teachers Union.

“Placing some students desks only 3 feet apart is ludicrous and dangerous and puts our keiki, our families, and our teachers at risk,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said.

HSTA demands the DOE adhere to a 6 foot rule.

[Read more: Superintendent outlines how schools will reopen using face-to-face, remote learning]

In other safety measures, masks must be worn in most settings and there will be ample amounts of hand sanitizer. School staff won’t take students’ temperatures.

Kishimoto said they will do visual assessments.

"Does the child or adult looked flushed? Are they coughing? Are they sneezing?" she said.

By next week, schools will decide the teaching format they’ll use. It will be classroom instruction, distance learning or a combination.

Kapolei Middle School principal Richard Fajardo said this year will be a learning experience for everyone.

“It’s not going to be the same as in March when they were here,” he said.

Added Kishimoto: “I think we’re going to have to have modifications for the rest of the year. But as soon as conditions improve and we can have kids safely back we will reopen our schools fully to all students.”

The teachers union, however, wants the department to proceed cautiously.

Rosenlee estimates 30 to 40% of teachers are in a high-risk category if they catch COVID-19.

"When teachers say we are willing to do anything for our students, that does not mean dying," he said.

HSTA wants parents, students and teachers to urge the Board of Education to make 6 feet the rule.

But Kishimoto said she’s confident in the re-opening plan. “This is modifications we needed to do to open safely,” she said.

The public school year starts on Aug. 4 but the first nine days will be half days. The first full day of instruction will be Aug. 17.

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