Maui Educators Picket for Improved Safety and Well-Being Amid Ongoing Pandemic
September 21, 2021, 9:30 AM HST
* Updated September 23, 4:48 AM
Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association members who work on the island of Maui were joined by State Representative Troy Hashimoto for informational picketing at Maui Waena Intermediate School and Maui High School on Tuesday morning.
Educators expressed their concerns about student and teacher safety and well-being, impacts on learning environments, and stresses on teachers. The union also says that on Maui, a lack of free COVID-19 testing in schools means students are being forced to quarantine for days, losing out on instruction.
Also, because of a substitute teacher shortage, the union says that when Maui full-time teachers get COVID-19 or are isolated after being close contacts, large numbers of students spend their entire days in cafeterias.
Robert Fusato, an HSTA member on Maui said, “On some days it’s not as bad as others, but some days you could have over 100 students in the cafeteria.”
Fusato said teachers want a better working agreement. “We feel there’s not enough of a teacher voice in what’s happening… If it’s only the state saying what’s going to happen and they’re not actually in the classroom, I don’t think they have enough information to make a decision,” said Fusato.
Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi responded to Maui Now’s request for comment saying, “We need to be focusing our time and energy on working together as a community to learn how to coexist with COVID for the long-term. This means building upon lessons learned, adapting to updated science and guidance, and collaborating on realistic solutions that are centered around keeping students in the classroom safely.“
He continued saying, “Our schools are committed to ensuring learning is occurring to the greatest extent possible and providing school work to students who are in quarantine due to COVID. Students learning from home due to quarantine have access to learning through various modes, including work packets designed to be completed throughout the length of the quarantine and assignments to a Google classroom or other virtual form of learning.“
The HSTA represents 13,500 public school teachers statewide and is seeking better safety protocols for teachers and students amid the ongoing pandemic. There are nearly 1,500 educators on Maui represented by the HSTA, including teachers, counselors, librarians, registrars and others.
Rep. Hashimoto, who sits on the House Education Committee said, “I think there are a lot of challenges at every school… We need to make sure that Maui is taken care of and their needs are heard. On the neighbor islands especially, we have to advocate for what is necessary.”
Teachers around the state are holding different informational picketing events over the next couple of weeks. They started last Tuesday, Sept. 14 in Kapolei, when about 200 Leeward Oʻahu teachers held an outdoor picketing event. Educators from Honolulu will be picketing the DOE headquarters in Honolulu this afternoon from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m.
Interim Superintendent Hayashi said, the Department is partnering with the Department of Health to coordinate school-based COVID-19 testing for eligible students and staff, at no cost, through federally funded programs. According to the DOE, all public schools will be registered for training to be eligible to participate in the Operation Expanded Testing program gy the end of this week.
“We are grateful for the many new free and accessible testing opportunities that have been made available across the state while schools work to ramp up testing programs. When layered with our existing mitigation strategies, screening testing will further help contain spread in schools and ensure safe learning environments for students and staff. Mahalo to our community members who are doing their part to help keep our schools safe so that students can continue to benefit from in-person instruction,” said Interim Superintendent Hayashi.
*This post was updated to include comments from the DOE, which were received after the original post was published.