While school board deliberates date, more educators express anxiety over reopening

Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 10:21 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school teachers and staff are set to return to the classroom next week, but the Board of Education authorities are still deliberating a delay in students heading back to school.

As of now, Hawaii’s students are on track to return to school August 4.

After a marathon meeting Thursday that stretched six and a half hours, board members decided to hold a special emergency meeting as soon as possible next week on whether to delay the start of the school year.

More than 4,000 employees submitted testimony to the school board calling for reopening to be delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those calling for a change is Radford High School principal James Sunday.

“If you’re telling us we have to open, we’ll open, but we still need time to do all of these things with our employees on campus,” Sunday said.

Earlier this week, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, and United Public Workers released a joint statement urging the state to hold off on opening schools.

Supported by their unions, Hawaii’s educational workers say the return to campus is rushed and unsafe.

“I just don’t feel that we are prepared,” said Denise Holi, who works as a health assistant at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School. “We are just not prepared.”

The Department of Education has released guidelines on how to reopen, but one of the biggest complaints is an unclear protocol that doesn’t address enough possible health and safety scenarios.

“What if a student gets sick?” asked Kehau Makaila, an educational assistant at Waimanalo Intermediate and Elementary School. “What are we then to do? What if a student decides, you know, they’re going to be disruptive in class? How are we supposed to manage that?”

Holi adds there’s been a lack of guidance and training in implementing procedures.

“No one has approached us to train us on how to properly handle a sick student or even faculty and staff,” Holi said. “You know, what we should do if they do present any kind of, any of the symptoms and then a follow up to that, what are we going to do after that?”

Another avenue of concern is the gray area where schools are left to implement their own health guidelines.

“Just something as simple as, do kids have to wear masks on campus?” Sunday said. “They leave those decisions up to the school and obviously, there’s other statewide directives where people have to wear masks indoors and things like that. I think that needs a bit more direction and consistency when it comes to health and safety issues.”

So far, Governor David Ige and DOE officials are sticking to the August 4 date and argue schools have the guidance they need to keep everyone safe.

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