The Hawaii State Teachers Association reached an agreement with the Hawaii Department of Education over the weekend over how to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year.

The memorandum of understanding applies to all 13,500 members of the teacher’s union, including public charter school teachers, and covers areas like health and safety, social and physical distancing, personal protective equipment and privacy safeguards.

“They (DOE) have to follow this by law. It’s a contract they have to follow. There can be grievances filed if they don’t follow this,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said on Monday.

The 11-page MOU provides a preview of what the DOE’s school reopening plan will look like when it’s unveiled by department officials on Thursday, ahead of the official Aug. 4 start to the 2020-21 school year.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee at DOE presser announcing pay increases for special needs and Hawaiian language teachers.
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee, left, says under a recent contract reached with DOE, no HSTA positions can be cut at schools “due to any instructional model changes for 2020-21.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

The first nine days of instruction will be half days for students, including lunch, whether the instruction is delivered virtually or in-person. That will give teachers the opportunity to use the second half of the day to prepare lesson plans and get training, according to the contract.

That means Aug. 17 will be the first full-day of instruction for all students, according to HSTA.

The DOE has also agreed to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on federally mandated testing for the 2020-21 school year.

When it comes to safe physical distancing on campus, schools must ensure either 6 feet or two arms’ length of separation between students and staff members “in meeting spaces, hallways and exterior school grounds whenever possible” and use gyms, libraries and computer labs for additional learning space, according to the contract.

In addition, each classroom and office must be supplied with soap, hand sanitizer and paper towels.

All employees, students and campus visitors will also be required to wear face coverings, with exceptions given due to age or medical condition.

Teachers are also exempt from supervising students if they have to eat lunch in their classrooms, in order to keep to the “duty-free lunch clause” per their contract.

What’s still to be determined is what exactly the instructional model will look like at each school. That will be up to principals and administrators to decide based on what’s best suited for their campus community.

That could be one day of in-person instruction, with one day off, according to the HSTA.

“Most likely there will be a blended teaching model at schools,” Rosenlee said. “This is a general framework. Part of it is asking that conversations continue and we know there will be more conversations, especially at the school level, now that we signed this MOU.”

The contract expires June 30, 2021.

“We don’t want to make people potentially sick or ill,” Rosenlee added. “We can’t make the same rules for Campbell High as for Lanai High. Everywhere will be different. We try to provide state level guidance at the same time as recognizing the unique situation of each school.”

The DOE declined to comment on the contract. Spokeswoman Lindsay Chambers said the agreement was circulated among principals over the weekend.

The contract also specifies no positions can be eliminated “due to any instructional model changes for 2020-21.” That means if a school switches to a blended or virtual instructional model, staffing positions can’t be cut as a result.

Not everything the HSTA pushed for was included in the final contract. The DOE did not agree to a “blanket guarantee of telework” where instructors can work from home, or to providing child care for teachers whose own children attend DOE schools and could be impacted by a blended learning model.

If teachers have underlying health conditions that puts them at greater risk when it comes to COVID-19, they can request Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations, according to HSTA. If they need to care for an ill family member, they can use paid sick leave per the Family and Medical Leave Act or use the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act or Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act Expansion Act.

The teachers’ union and DOE officials began negotiations the beginning of last week. The agreement was reached by Saturday afternoon, according to an HSTA online post.

The provisions in the MOU were based on recent HSTA teacher surveys, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Hawaii Board of Education’s June 18 resolution on the reopening of schools and National Education Association guidance, the union said.

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