The union representing Hawaii’s public school teachers is challenging a decision by the state Department of Education to require teachers to work during the second week of the extended two-week spring break.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association is also urging that state to delay resuming classes until at least April 6, according to HSTA President Corey Rosenlee.
Ige said in a news conference this afternoon the DOE still plans to resume classes on March 30, but added: “If there is a change that’s necessary, we will be making the appropriate announcement.”
The DOE announced Sunday that teachers would return to work from March 23 to March 27 to plan for social distancing within the school setting when students return, and to prepare for modified operations. The DOE also plans to thoroughly clean the schools during the break, and is scheduled to resume classes on March 30.
But the HSTA contends calling the teachers back for that work on March 23 runs afoul of a portion of the “teachers protection” portion of the union contract. In a video posted Monday evening, Rosenlee said the plan “is in violation Article X of our contract.”
Specifically, the contract states that “when students are sent home from school or are not required to attend due to emergencies which endanger health or safety, teachers will not be required to remain at, nor report to, said schools.”
According to bulletins circulated to the union membership, union leaders had an “initial informal grievance meeting” with DOE representatives on Sunday evening, and expected to have further meetings this week.
“HSTA is trying to be reasonable through the situation,” Rosenlee said in the video. “We understand the vital role that our schools play in the community, and how important it is to take care of our keiki.”
Rosenlee said in the video the union is asking that teachers be allowed to work from home to do the preparation, or to report to their schools if they choose to do so. He said the department has not yet responded, but if the department insists, “we do believe this is a violation of our contract, and we are taking action.”
Rosenlee noted that some teachers are older and may be at greater risk from the coronavirus, while others urgently need to avoid becoming carriers to protect their families.
When asked about the risks to teachers, Ige told reporters today that “there’s a lot of activities that we’ll be taking to mitigate the risk to all of our public servants.’
“It is things about ensuring that all students’ temperatures are taken and that we have appropriate measures so that should a child appear at school who has a fever or is sick, that we can separate them from the other children and reduce the risk of infection,” he said.
“The department is working with the union and all of the teachers all around the state to talk about what changes need to be made, what procedures need to be put in place so that we can have a learning environment that is safe, stable and most importantly allows our students to finish the school year in an appropriate timetable,” he said
Andrea Eshelman, deputy executive director of HSTA, said the union has initiated a class grievance over the issue, and discussed those concerns for an hour with DOE officials on Sunday night.
“We have members on both sides who are saying they want to be able to come into campus and do some work in their classrooms, isolating themselves, and others who are absolutely adamant they do not want to have report on campus and do that planning,” Eshelman said in the video.
Eshelman said the union is also asking for “additional paid leave options” to support teachers who need to take care of family members, and also ensuring work spaces and classrooms are sanitized before the teachers report back to work.
Technically school campuses are still open and people are on those sites working “but we anticipate that this will change, and as that changes, we will give you information on that,” Eshelman said on the video.