Transparency and Timely Notification Urged in COVID-19 Cases at Hawai‘i Public Schools 

August 12, 2020, 9:41 AM HST · Updated August 12, 9:41 AM
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The state Department of Education is defending itself from criticism after the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association pressed the department over an alleged delay in reporting of COVID-19 cases and lack of transparency–claims the department rejects.

Over the last few days, teachers across the state have contacted HSTA to report confirmed COVID-19 cases at five schools. In each of these cases, teachers were notified, but the union says parents and the greater public were not. “This is happening less than one week before students are supposed to return for face-to-face learning and testing on school campuses,” the organization said in a press release issued on Tuesday.

State Schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto issued a statement saying, “Timely notification was made to the impacted school community for each positive COVID-19 case at a HIDOE school or office. 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.”

According to the DOE, there have been 13 cases to date–three involving students and the rest staff. One case was on Kauaʻi and all others were on Oʻahu. The report does not specify the schools where the cases occurred, but narrows the cases by Complex Area.

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Most cases indicate notifications ranging from same day to four days out.  Some notifications were sent to staff, while others were sent to staff and families.  One case involving a student in the Leilehua/Mililani/Waialua Complex on Oʻahu from two weeks ago to July 29, is listed as pending and no notification was issued.

“Our principals are not contact tracers and have not been trained to be contact tracers,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee at a news conference Tuesday.

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

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