State Department of Education employees who do not supply proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be subject to a weekly COVID-19 test beginning Aug. 23, school officials said in a news release Friday.

The announcement follows Gov. David Ige’s Aug. 5 emergency proclamation requiring all state and county workers in Hawaii to be vaccinated or else submit to weekly testing.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents 13,500 teachers, pushed back against the order when it was announced, saying it would be burdensome to teachers living in remote or rural areas who don’t have regular access to free testing and also for not providing a religious or medical exemption. But the union has so far not made any other public statements regarding the mandate, other than posting a video message to members.

Crystal Alfonso RN assists in giving vaccinations at Ilima Intermediate School on the HPH vaccination bus.
Mobile vaccination clinics are continuing at DOE campuses this school year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The state order applies to all DOE personnel, including 22,000 full-time workers and substitutes, plus volunteers. There is no firm figure on how many DOE teachers are currently vaccinated, though the previous superintendent said it was 80%.

While Hawaii was first to issue a vaccination mandate that includes public school teachers, California earlier this week issued its own vaccination mandate that applies to both public and private school teachers and staff.

Asked why the deadline for Hawaii DOE employees begins Aug. 23, rather than Aug. 16 as specified in the proclamation, DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said it was because “the testing requirement is once every seven days.”

“So Aug. 23 would be the first deadline when test results are required from HIDOE employees,” she said via email.

DOE employees who choose not to get vaccinated and cannot find a place to get a free test will have to do it during non-work hours and at their own expense, according to Friday’s release.

Those who are vaccinated can start to upload their vaccination status and documentation beginning Monday through the DOE’s electronic Human Resources system.

“Encouraging vaccinations and implementing this weekly testing requirement in addition to our core essential strategies will help protect our ability to provide safe, in-person learning for our students,” interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said in a statement.

During Friday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser Spotlight livestream, Hayashi addressed a question about mandatory student vaccinations since the shots are currently only available to those 12 and older. He said it was a decision for the state Department of Health to make, and if such a call was made, that “we would abide by that.”

“Right now, it’s not something the Department of Education can require of all our students,” he said.

When it comes to mandatory vaccinations for student-athletes and coaches, announced last week by the DOE, he said the DOE has “the flexibility and latitude to require the vaccinations” since extracurriculars are “by student choice.” The department had pushed back the start of the fall sports season to Sept. 24 to provide time for these vaccinations.

“With all the students vaccinated, hopefully that will ensure we do have a season,” he said.

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