HIDOE, DOH failed to plan for school reopening in a responsible way
For months, HIDOE failed to answer HSTA‘s questions about COVID-19 contingency plans
News Release from HSTA, December 29, 2021
While school districts across the country are taking proactive steps to mitigate the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the Hawaii State Department of Education continues to make no adjustments while cases dramatically increase during the holiday season. We are seeing more and more that even being fully vaccinated and boosted is not enough to be fully protected anymore.
The HIDOE and the Hawaii Department of Health had time to make better plans for situations such as this and failed to act in a responsible way.
In its statement Wednesday, HIDOE claimed that “leadership and school leaders have been revisiting contingency plans and preparing for potential situations that may require modifications to in-person instruction. Should any transitions need to occur, schools will notify their staff and families directly.”
The HSTA has been asking for months what the contingency plans are and the HIDOE has refused to share such plans. If the HIDOE is truly prepared, it should direct all campuses to share those plans with staff and families so they can properly prepare. Our communities deserve more transparency so they can plan for adequate childcare and work/schedule modifications.
The HIDOE claimed since Dec. 1, HIDOE schools collectively have seen a daily average of 19 positive cases across nearly 42,000 staff and 160,000 students, according to the department’s case count dashboard. It’s disingenuous of HIDOE to cherry pick statistics that are washed out by the two weeks of winter break when school was not in session while the case counts across the state have rocketed to their highest ever.
It’s not unreasonable to expect that when students return to campus on Jan. 4, the spread of Omicron in our communities could be hitting a high with traditional New Year celebrations and gatherings taking place just a few days prior.
With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state DOH’s recent announcement of recommended adjustments to isolation and quarantine periods, the HSTA remains very concerned about the lack of planning and availability of easily available and rapid testing for students, staff, and the larger community.
The HIDOE has not updated its data regarding which campuses are providing access to testing since Sept. 16. Many of HSTA’s members have reported a lack of access to testing at their schools. In addition, most of the testing being provided by the DOH and HIDOE requires mailing samples to the continental United States for analysis with a turnaround time of several days, further impacting the ability of students and staff to learn their COVID-19 results in a timely manner. For some of our complexes, the HIDOE reported as few as 25% of campuses have testing available. If the state of Hawaii truly prioritizes keeping our schools open and operational, it would have a clear, transparent plan to assure testing is available at all campuses for every single family and public school employee.
Many of Hawaii’s keiki remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, placing them at higher risk for serious complications from a COVID-19 infection. In addition, as shown in our own community, the rapid increase and spread of COVID-19 from the Omicron variant is causing large numbers of first responders to have to isolate. The HSTA is very concerned that the HIDOE has no plans or guidance for school administrators should they be hit with high numbers of staff who must isolate or quarantine in the coming weeks.
The CDC and DOH recommend that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, even mild symptoms, should stay home from work, school and other activities. Those with symptoms who have not been tested should be tested as soon as possible.
Given this guidance, the HSTA encourages all of our members to ensure they stay home from work if they have mild symptoms, notify their health care provider, and get tested right away. HSTA members should know they have the right to request quarantine leave benefits if they fall in to one of the following categories:
An employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; or
An employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19; or
An employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
READ HSTA’S WEB STORY EXPLAINING QUARANTINE AND SICK LEAVE BENEFITS
HSTA continues to pursue our prohibited practices complaint as we await a decision from the Hawaii Labor Relations Board regarding the expectation to negotiate changes to working conditions that have taken place throughout this school year.
Parents should continue to exercise their rights to keep their children safe at home as teachers are once again forced between a rock and a hard place to keep students as safe as possible within the classroom while often being unable to provide adequate social distancing. Parents are asked to please keep children home if they are exhibiting any symptoms and seek testing right away.
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