As students return to class, teachers union calls on state to beef up COVID guidance

Critics say those measures haven't been adjusted enough to deal with the more contagious omicron variant.
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 5:18 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 4, 2022 at 10:36 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Most public school students in Hawaii return to class Tuesday following the winter break, which brought record-setting COVID case counts.

The fast-spreading Omicron variant has the Hawaii State Teachers Association calling for more guidance from the state Department of Education on how to handle outbreaks and when schools need to switch to hybrid or distance learning.

“We do have people, just like in our communities, who say it’s safe, you don’t have to worry. And we have some who say it’s unsafe we have to close down,” said Osa Tui, Jr., president of HSTA.

Tui said schools should have flexibility to make some decisions based on what’s happening in their specific neighborhoods. But, they say, a concise threshold for when schools must move to online education would allow everyone to prepare.

Catherine Payne, chair of the Board of Education, said a statewide shutdown of schools is not likely to happen again.

“It depends on where you are,” Payne said.

“We are hoping that we are able to get most of the kids back but we do understand that some of the schools may have special problems.”

Another concern is staffing.

Various industries have been hit with staffing problems because workers are infected or forced to quarantine.

DOE said in a statement that “all schools have contingency plans in place should the need arise to have to shift to an alternate mode of learning due to any type of emergency, including staff shortages.”

The department said no one was available to take questions regarding the contingency plans or concerns from the teachers union.

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