Teachers union disputes DOH’s reopening metrics

  • Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee speaks in 2018 at West Hawaii Civic Center. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is urging all schools statewide to only allow distance learning through the second quarter after claiming that the state’s metrics for reopening schools are far less strict than those recommended by federal health authorities.

During a news conference Wednesday, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said the Department of Health’s school reopening metrics do not match those recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, in fact, allow many more COVID-19 cases community-wide than the CDC advises before requiring schools to close.

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According to the DOH’s metrics, which were revealed Sept. 17, 36 or more cases per 10,000 people within a 14-day period is sufficient to require elementary and secondary schools to learn from home. However, Rosenlee said, the CDC places that threshold at 20 or more cases per 10,000.

Rosenlee pointed out that all levels of the state’s metrics are far more lenient than the CDC’s. For example, the DOH considers five cases per 10,000 within two weeks to be a tolerable level to allow in-person learning at both the elementary and secondary levels.

However, the CDC considers five cases per 10,000 to be the threshold at which elementary schools switch to blended learning, while secondary schools learn from home.

Rosenlee said the HSTA is demanding an explanation from the state Board of Education that justifies the discrepancy between the two systems, and strongly advised schools to remain learning from home throughout the second quarter.

Phyllis Unebasami, deputy superintendent at the DOE, wrote in a statement that the department is continuing to review the DOH and CDC guidelines, and has not implemented the DOH metrics into the DOE’s reopening policies.

“Under the department’s tri-level leadership structure, complex area and school leaders are empowered to make decisions in the best interest of the students and communities they serve,” Unebasami wrote. “This allows each school to review their individualized needs and plan accordingly.”

“School and complex area leaders continue to work with their school communities to gradually implement reopening plans that align with vetted state and national health guidance,” Unebasami went on.

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Unebasami also noted that, despite requests by Rosenlee, a DOH representative will not be available to discuss the matter at a Board of Education meeting scheduled for today.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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