HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The teachers union said Tuesday it has “no confidence” that school campuses can reopen safely in two weeks and urged the state to delay a plan to bring students back for in-person instruction until more is done to allay concerns from teachers and parents.
“Our schools need more time to be able to create a healthy environment for our students and our teachers,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Associatio, in a news conference Tuesday. “Opening our schools quickly is not something we should do in a pandemic.”
He added that the Aug. 4 reopening is “arbitrary.”
“One of the worst things we can do is just rush to open up,” he said.
The call comes a day after the governor, schools superintendent and state health officials sought to reassure parents ― and teachers ― that schools were ready to reopen safely. “Reopening schools is an important part of moving our community forward,” Gov. David Ige said, at a news conference Monday.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell reiterated that message Tuesday, acknowledging that there is a risk to reopening schools but there is also a risk to keeping them closed.
“I’m concerned about the impact that our closing of schools is having on the students of this island who are not in school,” he said.
DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto also acknowledged the concerns of teachers and staff.
“I understand people are nervous about reopening. We all are. As educators, we have dedicated our career to serving our children, and this is a time to show our community that their children are our priority as we help with state reopening,” she said.
Government officials have said they are seeking to balance the need for safety with the very pressing reality that parents need their children in school in order to return to work.
“Many parents need to get their kids back into a classroom learning situation so that they can focus on earning enough money to pay their electric bill, their rent, their mortgage,” Caldwell said.
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Some parents and teachers, however, say those issues shouldn’t trump health and safety concerns.
Brandon Cha, a teacher at Pearl City High School, said the Education Department needs to address pressing questions about safety and offer more concrete guidance to school principals and teachers.
“We as teachers are being asked to make a choice between our safety and our dedication to our students, and that’s a false choice to make,” he said.
“We want schools to open, but we want to do it safely. We want a specific plan.”
Marc Dixon, the parent of a fifth grader, agreed.
“The DOE can’t even get a handle on ukus. How are they going to control this pandemic that’s running itself all over this world?” he said.
Dixon said his daughter’s school is planning face-to-face classes every day.
“My immediate question is as a parent: What specific steps went into coming to this conclusion that it’s safe to be there? I fired a couple of emails back and it was crickets,” he said.
The teachers union was involved in discussions to hammer out the school reopening plan and also pushed the Education Department to implement stricter social distancing rules.
In addition to spacing students out, schools will require students to wear face coverings at most times and class sizes will be smaller. Most schools are opting for a “blended” model of learning, which means students will spend some time learning in person and some time learning at home.
Schools will also try to keep students grouped with the same people throughout the day ― in so-called bubbles. That way if someone gets sick, the contacts are minimized.
And on Monday, Dr. Kishimoto added that the department is hiring 15 new school nurses. If there is an outbreak, she added, “we quickly work to isolate the individual at a school site level, notify the (Department of Health) and notify the family.”
Kishimoto also said the DOE is buying 23,000 digital devices for low-income kids to take part in distance learning. She added the first two weeks will focus on training teachers and students in the new protocols.
But teachers said that’s about the same amount of training provided every year.
“Oh no there’s been no training yet ― at least not anything that’s mandatory,” said Lisa Morrison, a teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate.
“The assurances that staff are being trained and the assurance things are being properly communicated, those are hard to believe.”