HSTA study says 60-70% of Hawaii teachers find school unsafe

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Anxiety over in-person learning continues after the Department of Education reported 325 cases of COVID-19 last week.

This is as the state teachers union is preparing to send a letter to Governor Ige, the DOE, and the Board of Education to address mounting concerns.

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In the letter, the HSTA says a survey of teachers found 60% of them feel unsafe themselves, and 70% feel students aren’t safe. Teachers cited mask-wearing practices, poor ventilation, overcrowding, and students showing symptoms of COVID-19 and still going to school.

“Inside we’re often shoulder to shoulder, and mask-wearing is iffy,” Kailua Intermediate 7th grade ELA teacher Kate Werner said. “Those two things make a risk for spreading for sure,”

When it comes to mask-wearing, HSTA quotes several anonymous teachers.

One saying: “Students do not keep masks on. Kids take them on and off. It’s a battle to keep them on, and it is incredibly hot in our classrooms that are not air-conditioned, which makes it even harder to enforce as students are profusely sweating and are more uncomfortable breathing through sweat-soaked masks.”

Another one writes: “I already have had to call parents of students who think it’s a joke to wear a mask and repeatedly and purposely wear them incorrectly.”

It’s a challenge some teachers are trying to overcome by leading by example.

“On our campus, the adults, wearing masks correctly at all times kind of show students that that’s our expectation on campus,” Ilima Intermediate School STEM Lab teacher Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin said. “We’ve found that kids meet that guideline when we set those high expectations.”

The Department of Education tells us one of its core essential strategies for in-person learning is emphasizing the need to stay home if you’re sick. However, the HSTA says that’s not happening.

In the letter, an Oahu teacher claims they had a student show up to class with a sore throat and a cough, writing: “When the health aide asked the student why he didn’t tell her that he was feeling sick when she did the morning wellness check, the student said that his dad told the student not to tell the health aide that he was sick,”

At this time it’s unclear whether there have been any cases of COVID transmission on campus so far this year. It’s something KHON2 has asked the DOE about, and whether it will include that in its weekly COIVD case reports. A message left for the DOE Tuesday was not returned.

For now, teachers remain hopeful things will turn around.

“Now kids are seeing the news or might be upset about those numbers on the news of those case counts,” Milianta-Laffin said. “I just hope that families are having those conversations. I’m encouraging kids to keep to stay safe, letting the kids know that their teachers care about them and are trying to keep them safe as well.”

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The HSTA says they’re collecting signatures and plan to submit the letter with signatures to the Board of Education as public testimony, and also send it to the interim superintendent and the governor.

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