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Maui educators send ‘SOS signal’ over COVID safety concerns at schools

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 6:18 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 12:57 PM HST
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KAHULUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school teachers on Maui took to the streets on Tuesday, demanding more support from the state Department of Education to address COVID safety concerns.

“They keep acting like everything is fine. The house is burning,” said Lisa Morrison, a teacher at Maui High School.

“The message to the department is to listen to us,” said John Fitzpatrick, a seventh grade teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate School.

“We are sending out an SOS signal. We feel like we’re in a life-boat and we need true leadership that actually listens to teachers and listens to our concerns.”

Dozens of educators demonstrated outside of Maui Waena Intermediate and Maui High before school started Tuesday morning.

They said many teachers don’t feel safe going to work and they want to alert the public about what’s happening on campus and inside their classrooms.

“Our youngest students are the hardest hit. Our elementary teachers are the most stressed. It’s very problematic,” Morrison said.

The DOE’s website shows 43 cases at Kahului Elementary School, which is more than any elementary school in the state and more than any school on Maui.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health’s recent cluster report said while most children were infected off campus, three of those who tested positive for COVID were reported at school.

DOH also reported 11 clusters at multiple educational settings on Maui, totaling 134 cases.

Furthermore, the Health Department said only 60% of staff members were vaccinated at one of the schools where a COVID outbreak occurred.

Amid these concerning reports, teachers said they want rapid COVID tests available on all campuses.

“On neighbor islands like Maui, it’s really hard to get testing and to get rapid testing. So even our faculty who need to get regular testing are having trouble being able to schedule, get their results and still continuously work,” said Morrison.

Fitzpatrick said there are not enough substitute teachers to fill in when teachers get sick or have to quarantine.

“Which means either admin has to cover or they have to ask other teachers to come out of their duties in order to fill those duties. This means they have to work overtime at home, and they don’t get paid for that,” he said.

State Rep. Troy Hashimoto, who represents several communities on the Valley Isle and sits on the House Education Committee, also met with the teachers and said their concerns are valid.

“There is a lot of federal monies out there, and what I always like to look at is how is the DOE is spending that money,” Hashimoto said.

The DOE released a statement in response to the demonstrations on Maui late Tuesday afternoon:

“We need to be focusing our time and energy on working together as a community to learn how to coexist with COVID for the long-term. This means building upon lessons learned, adapting to updated science and guidance, and collaborating on realistic solutions that are centered around keeping students in the classroom safely.

Our schools are committed to ensuring learning is occurring to the greatest extent possible and providing school work to students who are in quarantine due to COVID. Students learning from home due to quarantine have access to learning through various modes, including work packets designed to be completed throughout the length of the quarantine and assignments to a Google classroom or other virtual form of learning.

The Department is partnering with the Department of Health to coordinate school-based COVID-19 testing for eligible students and staff, at no cost, through federally funded programs. By the end of this week all public schools will be registered for training to be eligible to participate in the Operation Expanded Testing program. We are grateful for the many new free and accessible testing opportunities that have been made available across the state while schools work to ramp up testing programs.

When layered with our existing mitigation strategies, screening testing will further help contain spread in schools and ensure safe learning environments for students and staff. Mahalo to our community members who are doing their part to help keep our schools safe so that students can continue to benefit from in-person instruction.”

Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi

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