HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii public school teachers are spending Wednesday afternoon picketing in front of the Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE) and Hawaii Board of Education (BOE) headquarters.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) will be filing a prohibited practice complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board against the state for failing to bargain with the union over COVID-19 safety concerns. If the labor board rules the state’s actions unlawful, it may order the employer to negotiate.

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HSTA, which represents approximately 13,500 public school teachers statewide, has stated that Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi and the DOE have used Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation to ignore critical issues in schools. As a result, HSTA says it is now suffering a loss of teachers who are dealing with smaller paychecks and exceedingly difficult working conditions.

One of the main issues the teachers union has put on the table is the suspension of some parts of Chapter 89 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, the collective bargaining in public employment. The changes to the statutes allowed the state to implement a vaccine/testing mandate. However, HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr. says it also gave the DOE a “blanket excuse to willfully ignore other critical issues in our schools,” including but limited to the following:

  • Inconsistent quarantining practices between schools that leave teachers out of the close contact identification process;
  • The significant additional burden of generating and grading work for students who quarantine or are kept home with limited access to distance learning options;
  • Inadequate classroom coverage given our severe substitute shortage; and
  • Unnecessary in-person staff meetings, often with inadequate ventilation.

KHON2’s Always Investigating dug into the numbers and found that learning across public schools in Hawaii plummeted during the pandemic. New test scores and screenings show huge losses in math and reading.

Results of both the annual statewide test scores, as well as much more recent results of what are called “universal screeners,” both show the same urgent problem: erosion across core subjects and even worse for disadvantaged and minority gap groups.

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The test-score trends in Hawaii mirror what’s been seen nationwide, and the DOE says it is “working with other national organizations to further study (the pandemic’s) impact on learning.”