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Hawaii News

Board of Education approves COVID-19 guidelines

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The state Board of Education on Thursday approved a set of guidelines to better enable teachers to conduct their classes while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board, assembled in a virtual meeting online, also approved a set of directives to be included in the Department of Education’s reopening plan, including enforcing 6 feet of physical distancing on campus, proper mask wearing at school and ensuring classroom ventilation to the greatest extent possible.

Those directives were approved unanimously, but the board did back off from a controversial proposal to prohibit schools from changing their instructional delivery mode — from the current distance learning mode to hybrid or in-person learning — until the directives are incorporated in the reopening plan, as well as the Principal Handbook and Health and Safety Handbook.

Some board members argued that the requirement went too far and likely would interfere with some schools planning to change their models.

The DOE has mandated distance learning mode through the first quarter, which ends today. While most schools are continuing in that mode, some schools, particularly on the neighbor islands, are expected to transition to hybrid or in-person learning.

During public testimony, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee urged the board to extend distance learning through the second quarter.

“The current reality of leaving the decision to the complex area superintendents is chaotic and appears capricious, because right now on the same island and in neighboring complex areas, we have totally different standards, which makes no sense from a public health standard,” Rosenlee said.

As for the telework guidelines, they were proposed by board Chairwoman Catherine Payne following earlier input from teachers who said they were being unfairly denied the opportunity to conduct their classes from home.

“It’s very evident that there is tremendous inconsistency and a perceived lack of fairness in the telework issue,” Payne said. “I don’t believe teachers are viewing telework as an easy way out of going into the classroom, because it seems it’s very hard for them to accomplish what they want to do for their students through this (distance learning) model.”

Under the guidelines, teachers should be allowed to work from home if they have reliable internet connectivity, can teach with minimal disruption and can allow their administrator to easily monitor their work.

Payne said telework approvals should be granted generously, while termination of such agreements should be done sparingly.

In the end, however, the board went with neutral language that gives principals the final say.

“What we’re doing here is approving directive factors to consider,” board member Bruce Voss said. “But be very clear: the ultimate decision is at the discretion of the principal.”

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