The Hawaii State Teachers Association recently began its bargaining with the Hawaii Department of Education on a series of safety measures to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first day of classes for the new school is scheduled for August 4, campuses will reopen under new learning models that could include face-to-face classes, distance-learning or a hybrid of both.

The HSTA met with the state’s department of education to share its own proposal on Monday. The HSTA President, Corey Rosenlee, said they want teachers to be in the discussions on how schools will reopen.

Rosenlee said, “We know that there are going to be parents and we know that there are going to be teachers that just don’t feel comfortable being in a confined area for a long period of time, so we got to give the ability of distance learning.”

The DOE Superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, told the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 members that they are expanding their digital capabilities. The department is requesting $57.8 million in CARES ACT funding for distance-learning to provide loaner computers to students and to staff, a digital help desk, among other initiatives.

Kishimoto also told state senators the guidelines for after school programs and sports activities will be decided after a school selects its reopening model.

Kishimoto said, “Once the schools are clear about the model they are selecting then they will overlay the afterschool program plan again knowing that’s such a critical service for our kids and for families.”

Rosenlee said there will need to be flexibility when reopening schools as every campus faces its own unique challenges.

Although one of his main concerns for the new school year is an issue that precedes the pandemic, a shortage of teachers.

“I think a lot of teachers are waiting to see what the rules are,” Rosenlee said. “If they don’t feel like there’s enough flexibility or they are being forced into situations where they are concerned about their safety, they may decide I just won’t go into teaching or I will retire and that’s what our concern is.”

The DOE plans to publish guidelines to reopen schools on July 2.