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HIDOE to implement weekly COVID-19 testing requirement
By News Release @ 1:38 AM :: 1077 Views :: Education K-12, Labor, COVID-19

HIDOE to implement weekly COVID-19 testing requirement for all employees and volunteers

Employees who certify and provide proof of full vaccination will not be subject to testing requirement

News Release from Hawaii DoE, August 13, 2021

All Hawai‘i State Department of Education (HIDOE) employees will be required to be tested weekly for COVID-19 beginning Aug. 23 to comply with Gov. David Ige's emergency proclamation and to help ensure a safe environment for students and staff, the Department announced today.

If an employee can certify and provide proof of full vaccination, the employee will not be subject to the weekly testing requirement. This requirement applies to all HIDOE employees, including salaried and casuals/substitutes, as well as volunteers.

"COVID-19 vaccines are the leading public health prevention strategy to stop the pandemic. As Hawaii's largest state agency, the Department of Education plays a critical role in advancing the state's vaccination rate in the fight against COVID," interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. "Encouraging vaccinations and implementing this weekly testing requirement in addition to our core essential strategies will help protect our ability to provide safe, in-person learning for our students."

Governor Ige's August 5 emergency proclamation requires all state and county employees to attest and provide proof to their respective department, office, or agency whether they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, partially vaccinated for COVID-19, or not vaccinated for COVID-19.

HIDOE employees who opt not to become vaccinated will be required to be tested weekly for COVID-19 at the employee’s expense and during non-work hours.

Beginning Aug. 15, employees can begin to access the Department’s electronic human resource system (eHR) to attest to their vaccination status, upload documentation, and/or provide weekly COVID-19 test results.

Any documentation related to vaccination status or test results obtained for purposes of this requirement will not be disclosed to individuals other than as necessary to ensure compliance with the governor’s emergency proclamation.

All employees were notified today by memorandum of the requirements and other details.

HIDOE staff were prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines as "frontline essential workers" back in January, giving teachers, bus drivers, custodians and other education staff early access to vaccinations. The Department encouraged everyone willing to be vaccinated to take advantage of the opportunity and worked with the state Department of Health to provide access to vaccination sites.

Soon after a vaccine was authorized for adolescents 12 and older, the Department began standing up school-based vaccination clinics in early May to make access as easy and convenient as possible for students and families.

  *   *   *   *   *

An open letter regarding ‘The Safety Our Students Deserve’

From HSTA, August 13, 2021

An open letter to:

Hawaii State Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith T. Hayashi
State of Hawaii Board of Education Chairperson Catherine Payne
Members of the State of Hawaii Board of Education
Hawaii Governor David Y. Ige

From: Concerned educators of Hawaii’s public schools

Subject: The Safety Our Students Deserve

The first weeks of the 2021–22 school year have been incredibly alarming as COVID-19 case counts skyrocket to record levels.

Health and safety guidelines, including proper masking and social distancing, go unenforced in our schools. Reporting and notification remain inconsistent. A lack of personal protective equipment, improper ventilation, and other outstanding issues are not being addressed.

We are seeing frequent failures to adhere to guidance with no support regarding COVID-19 response in our schools. This ultimately hurts the education we all believe is essential for our keiki.

During the 2020–21 school year, the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) and the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) agreed to modify the HSTA collective bargaining agreement to ensure safer practices in the workplace in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). However, this MOU expired on June 30, 2021, and the state refused to bargain a renewal and update of the MOU for the 2021–22 school year.

It’s time to reconsider this decision and meet us at the bargaining table to address these mounting concerns and more.

Many educators feel schools are not safe

When asked, respondents to an HSTA survey of members on Friday, July 30, indicated overwhelmingly that they felt somewhat unsafe or very unsafe for both themselves (~60%) and for students (~70%) as they prepared for roughly 175,000 public school students to return to in-person learning.

When asked a week later to provide comments on how safe or unsafe conditions were with students back on campus, over 80% of responses relayed how unsafe conditions were and continue to be.

Guidelines for social distancing, masking, etc. not followed

The most prevalent feedback revolves around the fact that social distancing is often impossible. From classroom arrangements where students have no choice but to sit shoulder to shoulder at the same table to crowded cafeterias and impromptu gatherings to socialize with friends, the potential for transmission has risen significantly with all students back on campuses.

Crowded classrooms

A middle school teacher in Honolulu reported:

There is barely enough space to fit desks in the room so forget about safety. It’s just pack them in as much as possible. We keep procedures in the classroom, but at lunch, the cafeteria is overfilled. We have whole grade-level assemblies of 100 kids at a time, and recess is kids hanging all over each other and in everyone’s face with and without masks worn properly. It’s an absolute free for all.

Large, in-person meetings

Likewise, administrators are also mandating that faculty members meet unnecessarily in person. Here’s what one Honolulu teacher had to say:

A principal doesn’t care about his staff. He forced his entire staff to meet in the library with no social distancing or ventilation. He forced the entire staff to ride in packed school buses, two people per seat, on a staff “field trip.”

The irony is not lost on us that the governor issued an executive order on Aug. 10 prohibiting indoor social gatherings from exceeding 10 people. How does this match what a teacher from Hawaii Island wrote?

How is it that we can meet (in the high school setting) four classes a day with 28+ students and yet family members are being asked to limit gatherings to 10 max? How is it that the state is being asked to practice six-foot social distancing and we in the classroom are being asked to only have three feet between students?

Protocols ignored, unenforceable

Mask wearing was another major issue that respondents commented on. One teacher from Hawaii Island shared:

I already have had to call parents of students who think it’s a joke to wear a mask and repeatedly and purposely wear them incorrectly, exposing noses, or just take them off in class. I have seen students go to off-limits areas that aren’t monitored as well, take off their masks, and some engage in PDA. While I understand the urgent developmental need for socialization and human contact, it’s unsettling to see rules being disregarded and more opportunities for the spread of the coronavirus.

A Windward Oahu teacher also spoke to the difficulty with masks:

Students do not keep masks on. Kids take them on and off. It’s a battle to keep them on and it is incredibly hot in our classrooms that are not air-conditioned, which makes it even harder to enforce as students are profusely sweating and are more uncomfortable breathing through sweat-soaked masks.

And students are coming to school with symptoms, according to a Central Oahu teacher:

One student has a runny nose and wet cough, but I was told that the student had a doctor’s note from the last school year for allergies and was fine. Another student told me that he had a sore throat and cough. When the health aide asked the student why he didn’t tell her that he was feeling sick when she did the morning wellness check, the student said that his dad told the student not to tell the health aide that he was sick.

Lack of notification, inconsistent response and reporting

As cases in Hawaii rise, so too are the cases being discovered in our schools. Yet we are seeing inconsistent responses when these cases occur. For example, one school might quarantine an entire class while another school might only quarantine a tight radius of students, even though both sets of students may have had multiple interactions inside and outside the classroom during the school day.

Our educators have also pointed out that known positive cases in their schools are not always reflected in the weekly reporting of cases on the HIDOE website, as is now required by law.

Delayed notification puts families at risk

A teacher on Hawaii Island reported that the school’s failure to follow protocols put a family member at risk:

I was in contact with an active case of COVID-19 on Friday. I assumed that I was not associated with the cases at my school since I wasn’t contacted by my principal, like she announced she would do if we had contact with any of the three cases. Unfortunately, she contacted me on Monday after I spent time with my unvaccinated family member over the weekend.

Discrepancies in reporting

A teacher in Windward Oahu noticed a discrepancy between what was reported on the HIDOE website and the known positive case count on their campus:

Not all cases are being reported to the DOE. My campus has known cases but they are not listed on the reporting for either this week or last week.

Underlying health and safety issues persist in our schools

Many of the safety precautions that were put in place for the 2020–21 school year were summarily removed for 2021–22. With current daily case counts roughly triple what they were a year ago, reinstating some of these safeguards would go a long way toward increased safety in our schools.

Insufficient sanitization

A Leeward Oahu teacher shared that sanitizing protocols, which were followed regularly last school year, are no longer in place:

There were sanitizing protocols and regular sanitizing happening last year, however this year there are the same set protocols but they are not being done. No sanitizing has been done in classes and high-touch areas to minimize spread. I have to sanitize my own class regularly to help minimize the spread for my students and myself to help minimize the risk of bringing home germs to my family, my 99-year-old grandmother.

Poor ventilation

In Central Oahu, a teacher reported:

Ventilation in classrooms is left to the discretion of teachers, some classes have very little airflow. No “specialist” has come to our classrooms or campus to verify safety.

A Honolulu teacher echoed similar sentiments:

We had two full days of meetings in an unventilated library. Janitors are not wiping down desks and we have to buy the PPE. There are no clear plans at school for social distancing and yet you want us to use our sick leave if we catch COVID at school?

Teaching under impossible circumstances

The HIDOE had months to plan for the upcoming school year. Yet, its COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidance for School Year 2021–22 wasn’t posted until the afternoon of Friday, July 30, after educators were already at school for three days with just one more day to prepare for the return of their students.

Teachers want to provide safe spaces where their students can learn without distraction. However, the vigilance necessary to maintain that safety in overcrowded classrooms is already taking its toll.

Just saying schools are safe doesn’t make it so

According to a Kauai teacher:

The public is being told that it’s safe at schools because schools are following the mitigating measures. I am here to say, “NO, THEY ARE NOT!”

A Honolulu teacher sums up the situation:

Our school administrators are doing their best to protect students and staff under the circumstances we’ve been dealt. There’s just too many kids and too many people, and I am scared.

Another Honolulu teacher offers this plea to parents:

Everyone says that this year will be so much easier than last year, but this year will bring a myriad of unique challenges now that most students are back and we are still in a pandemic. As a teacher, I cannot make any promises that your child will be safe. Please understand that I am doing my best with what I have.

We need to come together now

When the coronavirus first hit Hawaii’s public schools, former Superintendent Christina Kishimoto signed a letter of commitment with HSTA to ensure continuity of education through the crisis by addressing changing working conditions. At the end of the 2019–20 school year, it was clear that COVID-19 would still be around and the HIDOE and HSTA negotiated an MOU for the 2020–21 school year.

Efforts to renew and update the MOU went nowhere as the employer refused to consider any COVID-related modifications for the 2021–22 school year. They expected all students to return to in-person learning and insisted that safety concerns would be addressed through the HIDOE’s own health and safety guidance.

However, due to the Delta variant, COVID-19 continues to spread like wildfire in Hawaii and has become even more contagious. Infection among children has also grown and even people who are fully vaccinated are susceptible to breakthrough infections. Children under 12 years old still have no access to vaccinations. Current health and safety protocols cannot counteract students sitting shoulder to shoulder in cramped classrooms or gathering unmasked in large crowds in the cafeteria. Furthermore, the HIDOE and the Department of Health have removed the thresholds and any contingencies that would be triggered by an explosion of cases.

We cannot do this alone. We must come together to make the right decisions that will keep our communities safe. HSTA continues to stand ready and willing to work as partners in this process. We urge you to join us in finding solutions that acknowledge the reality of our current conditions as we support our keiki through this difficult time.

Sincerely,

Osa Tui, Jr.
HSTA President, McKinley High

Logan Okita
HSTA Vice President, Nimitz Elementary

Lisa Morrison
HSTA Secretary-Treasurer, Maui High

Aaron Kubo
HSTA NEA Director, Hilo Intermediate

Attachment: Concerned educators of Hawaii’s public schools co-signers

Cc:
Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission Interim Executive Director Yvonne Lau
Hawaii Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi
Hawaii Senate Education Committee Chairperson Michelle N. Kidani
Hawaii Speaker of the House Scott K. Saiki
Hawaii House Education Committee Chairperson Justin H. Woodson

VIEW THE FULL LETTER WITH SIGNATURES (PDF)

HSTA: HIDOE to implement weekly COVID-19 testing requirement

SA VIDEO: Hawaii Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi joins the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii

SA: Hawaii Education Department’s vaccine mandate goes into effect Aug. 23

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