HSTA to take legal action over school reopening plans

The Hawaii State Teachers Association said today it will take legal action over school reopening plans it feels are unsafe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

During a news conference this afternoon, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said the union will file a prohibitive action complaint against the state with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board and a grievance on behalf of Bargaining Unit 5 employees because of violations of the HSTA contract and a memorandum of understanding reached with the state in June.

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According to Rosenlee, HSTA requested impact bargaining with the state Department of Education over changing community conditions and newly modified instructional plans, but the state has refused.

Big Island public schools, along with most other schools on the neighbor islands, will transition entirely to distance learning for the first four weeks of instruction, the DOE announced Tuesday, a move that came a week before students were expected to start the school year.

All neighbor island schools, with the exception of Molokai schools and Hana High and Elementary on Maui, will follow a three-phase plan for distance learning, which includes in-person training, full distance learning and a possible transition to blended learning, the DOE said Tuesday.

According to the DOE, students will be scheduled to return to campuses from Aug. 17-20 to connect with their teachers, receive training on distance learning platforms, and address issues with connectivity and accessibility.

While some schools will use a “grab-and-go” process, Rosenlee said thousands of students will still physically return to campuses and many teachers will meet with students face-to-face.

“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,” he said.

Rosenlee said the HSTA is requesting the Labor Relations Board issue a declaratory ruling stating the DOE’s plans violate workforce safety rules by forcing teachers into a hazardous workplace and an injunction to prevent the state from violating these rules.

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With an ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases — which include a record-high 355 new cases reported today — Rosenlee said distance learning should be implemented until the end of the first quarter or until schools are safe.

A full story will be available in the Friday edition of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

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