The teachers union has filed a complaint asking the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to stop the state from requiring public school teachers to report to campus next week with students, saying it would be hazardous to their health.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association filed the legal action, which is not a lawsuit, Thursday afternoon against Gov. David Ige, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and the Department of Education, and made the document public today.
“The spike and rapid spread of COVID-19 cases is an unsafe and hazardous condition which imminently endangers the health and safety of all Bargaining Unit 5 members who are required to report to school or related worksites,” the complaint reads.
HSTA represents teachers, librarians, counselors and registrars at the state’s public schools.
The legal filing alleges that the state engaged in a “prohibited practice” by directing teachers to report to work “with an unknown number of students” and for refusing to bargain in good faith over changing work conditions caused by the rapid rise and spread of the coronavirus.
It calls for the labor board to issue an declaratory order that “schools are not safe and will remain unsafe while COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly spread throughout the community.”
The union is seeking an injunctive order from the board prohibiting the governor, superintendent and state of Hawaii from requiring HSTA members to report to their work sites “until such time that the COVID-19 outbreak has ended or is controlled.”
It also seeks civil penalties of $10,000 per violation for “wilfully committing prohibited practices.”
Monday is the first day for students at Hawaii’s public schools, and the plan is for students to come to campus on a rotating basis for the first four days to get set up for distance learning if they need help making that transition.
Some campuses are offering “grab-and-go” pickups for computers and back-to-school forms. Others have students scheduled to be in classrooms with teachers for part of the day, or are offering one-on-one appointments.
“To have teachers be required to meet with students face-to-face in the middle of a raging pandemic is reckless, and will risk the lives of everyone,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said.
On Thursday, Kishimoto expressed outrage that the union demanded that its members received two weeks of training — thereby sacrificing instructional days for children — and now is refusing to have teachers spend a few days helping students get rolling academically.
“What our keiki deserve is time to train and connect with their teachers to prepare before we shift to full distance learning for the next few weeks,” Kishimoto said.
“The union’s misleading claim that ‘tens of thousands’ of students will be receiving face-to-face learning on campuses next week is a scare tactic that follows multiple publicity stunts to create further anxiety at a time when we need sound leadership.”
“As previously announced, our school leaders have designed plans to have students return to campus in a coordinated manner next week, as needed, to connect with their teacher, receive training on distance learning platforms if necessary, and address issues with connectivity and access to technology,” she said. “In many cases, schools have designated one hour a day for certain grade levels to accomplish this, while enforcing safety protocols around social distancing and face coverings.”
From July 29, when teachers returned to work, through Aug. 11, seven employees at various public schools statewide reported they had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the department. The union said it has heard of a few other cases since then.
In its complaint, HSTA says the state has not disclosed how many school staff members are being quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19, which could affect a school’s capacity to safely provide instruction.