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COVID-19 cases reported at several Hawaii public schools since Thursday, HSTA says

Individual cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at several public school campuses statewide since Thursday, even before students return to school, the Hawaii State Teachers Association announced today.

The union identified five campuses — Campbell High School, Hilo Intermediate, Kapolei Middle School, Moanalua High School and Moanalua Elementary, but the department said the HSTA was mistaken and there was no case at Moanalua Elementary. The Hilo case was a visitor briefly on campus, not an employee or student, a DOE spokeswoman said.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee held a news conference to publicize the cases, saying the union had to step up because the Department of Health and the Department of Education have failed to do so. The union learned about the cases from teachers, some of whom were quarantined as a result.

“In each of these cases, teachers were notified… but parents and the greater public were not,” Rosenlee said. “Neither the state Health Department nor the Department of Education is informing the public about cases at all.”

Shortly after the press conference, the Department of Education released a tally of 13 cases on public school campuses dating back to June 26 — a total of 11 staff members and two students. The chart identified the cases by complex area not by individual school.

The most recent cases — six this month — all involved staff members. Three were reported in the Campbell-Kapolei complex last week; one in the Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt complex on Thursday; one in the Aiea-Moanalua-Radford complex on Saturday; and one in the Pearl City-Waipahu complex on Monday.

“Timely notification was made to the impacted school community for each positive COVID-19 case at a HIDOE school or office,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement. “This is consistent with the department’s protocols for notifying school communities about any health or safety threat that occurs on a campus. The department followed its procedures on internal notification, communication to health officials, cleaning and sanitization of facilities, and informing impacted staff, students and/or vendors.”

“The state Department of Health is the lead agency in terms of notifying individuals who were possibly exposed,” she said. “If a case rises to a level requiring immediate, broader notification to the public, the department will respond accordingly.”

Teachers and other staff returned to public schools on July 29 for two weeks of training and preparation for the new academic year.

Students are scheduled to start school with distance learning on Monday. For the first four days, they are invited back to campuses in staggered fashion to meet their teachers, get training and pick up technology devices in preparation for distance learning. But the union opposes that plan, saying it’s not safe to have students on campus.

The union is advocating 100% distance learning statewide for the first quarter. The department plans to offer distance learning for the first four weeks and continue to monitor the situation.

“Policymakers, parents and the public deserve to know important information so they can decide the vital question of whether our schools are safe for keiki to return on Monday,” Rosenlee said. “The Department of Education has shown that it is not transparent and the Department of Health has shown that it is not prepared yet the state is still fixated on bringing the students back on Monday. Why?”

Last week, the Department of Education confirmed that there had been individual cases at Iliahi Elementary School and Kaala Elementary in Wahiawa. Rosenlee said the union has also received reports that some staff members were quarantined at Leilehua High and Waialae Public Charter School after July 31.

Previously the Department of Education had confirmed individual cases at five public school campuses on Oahu during the summer session along with one case on Kauai, but released no further details.

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