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With hundreds of teachers on sick leave, schools don’t have enough subs to fill in

Hawaii schools are seeing COVID staffing shortages amid an ongoing surge, with hundreds of teachers calling out sick and not enough substitutes to fill in.
Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 3:31 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2022 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii schools are seeing their own COVID staffing shortage amid an ongoing surge, with hundreds of teachers calling out sick and not enough substitutes to fill in.

The result, the teachers union said, is counselors and even security guards “babysitting” students.

Interim schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi told reporters that about 800 public school teachers were out sick Wednesday while an additional 800 were gone for other reasons.

Those absences amount to about 12% of all classroom teachers.

Meanwhile, there were approximately 400 unfilled substitute teacher requests statewide.

“This is a reflection of what’s happening in our community,” Hayashi said. “Staffing challenges are unfortunately a statewide issue across all industries ― airlines, hospitals, grocery stores.”

He didn’t provide a clear answer about what’s happening in the many cases where a classroom has no teacher or substitute teacher. “Schools are working and try to be really innovative in to cover and to address to make sure that our students are being taught and classes are being covered,” he said.

But he did call on parents to be understanding ― and pledged to keep classrooms open.

“We are committed to keeping our schools open,” he said.

“It may be that day that principals will be determining, you know, we’re not able to cover this particular class. So those students and those classes may not be able to be in school that day. And we’ll be communicating and contacting parents as soon as possible.”

Tens of thousands of Hawaii public school students returned to class Tuesday after the holiday break, during which the state saw record counts in new COVID infections.

Hayashi said there is no one threshold for closing a school, but added principals and complex area superintendents are making decisions quickly.

“There is no real threshold or any magic number that we’re looking at,” he said.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is upset by the lack of a clear plan.

“Counselors are being pulled in to go and babysit a classroom,” said HSTA President Osa Tui. “The security guards are being told you need to go and babysit a classroom.”

“That is very inappropriate, security guards have a job to do counselors have a job to do.”

Without a plan, HSTA says they want at least few days warning to prepare to change from teaching in classrooms to distance learning.

“If we need to move to hybrid, are we giving teachers enough time to prepare?” Tui said.

“Because it’s not like just flicking a switch, and boom, we’re all online or we’re in some hybrid mode. There needs to be time to prepare. And those are the kinds of things we’ve been asking the department to discuss that they refuse to sit down and negotiate with us.”

Tui said they also want the availability of more rapid tests on campus.

Twenty Oahu schools have signed up to begin offering rapid testing for students and staff this week.

But Tui said much of the testing doesn’t offer rapid results.

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