Maui teachers rally for staff help and free COVID testing | News, Sports, Jobs

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Maui High School teachers hold up signs along Lono Avenue ahead of class Tuesday morning. “It just raises awareness of the safety of our students and teachers,” said Evelyn Gamez, a special education teacher. “We are here to stand in solidarity with the members of the HSTA. Teachers in public schools across the state are rallying against frustrations over the lack of COVID-19 testing options in schools and staff shortages made worse by the pandemic. Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Public school teachers rallied at schools in Central Maui on Tuesday, denouncing what they say is a lack of safety for students and a refusal by the state Department of Education to come to the table to find contingency plans in the event of a serious staff shortage.

A few dozen members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association picketed in front of Maui High, Kahului Elementary, and Maui Waena Intermediate schools before classes began.

Joined by Central Maui State Representative Troy Hashimoto and adhering to the COVID-19 protocol, educators at the protest drew attention to the lack of free COVID-19 testing in schools that leave staff and pupils without resources.

As a result, large numbers of staff – and students – are quarantined amid illness or exposure, disrupting key moments for learning and leaving those left in school without sufficient resources. .

“There is currently a significant shortage of substitute teachers, as well as a regular shortage of teachers” Maui Waena science professor John Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “So a lot of our students end up in the cafeteria because we don’t have enough subscribers to cover the teachers. “

Educators and Maui State Representative Troy Hashimoto (second from right) attend rally in Kahului Tuesday morning to raise awareness of lack of COVID-19 testing options in schools and staff shortages made worse by the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Troy Hashimoto

There were seven teachers from Maui Waena on Tuesday, which means administration, special education, program coordinators or even the registrar will try to cover classes, taking them away from their jobs and forcing them to work hours. additional unpaid, Fitzpatrick said. Since the start of the year, he has seen 13 to 16 teachers go out in a single day.

Maui High special education teacher Evelyn Gamez went on strike on Tuesday, calling for a better testing program. She said some assistants in her department choose not to come to work rather than pay to be tested every week.

“For some, it’s too expensive for them to test if they have to do it out of their own pocket”, she said, adding that she supported the vaccination.

Another educator who picketed Tuesday, Lisa Morrison, said that when students are absent it often leaves the teacher in a difficult position as well.

“I have a child at Paia Elementary School. He was able to go to two weeks of kindergarten, then was considered close contact and had to quarantine himself for 10 days ”, she said. “Can you imagine being the kindergarten teacher who has to go through all the classroom procedures all over again, trying to get the kindergarten kids ready again? “

Morrison, an arts and communications teacher at Maui High, said her high school is doing its best to keep people safe and the situation is more complex in elementary schools, which are not yet licensed to vaccinate young people.

She added that underfunding and overcrowding has long plagued Hawaii’s school system, but with the COVID-19 spotlight, the lack of resources is exacerbated.

“Coming back to full-time (full-time learning) put us back in this situation”, Morrison said. “Obviously, to distance well, we would have to do more than one rotating schedule as we did last year. And I know people thought it was a disruption. But what is happening now is just as much a learning disruption.

Teachers in Maui have said burnout is high.

“I am very grateful because we have the best students – they come to school and the majority of them are really eager to learn” Fitzpatrick said. “Unfortunately we have to work two or three times harder than usual and there is a lot of burnout.

“It’s only two months in the school year and we have to sprint when we try to run a marathon. “

Educators echoed the need for the state’s DOE to partner with the Hawaii Teachers Union to find solutions.

The department has so far refused to negotiate an agreement with the union on school safety measures, which both sides put in place last year, a spokesman for the Hawaii State Teachers Association said. , Keoki Kerr, in a statement.

“I would like the community to reach out to the Department of Education, their local legislator and the governor and demand safer schools and engage with unions working in schools to find a solution. said Morrison, who is also the secretary-treasurer of HSTA. “I don’t expect the public to necessarily find a solution, but if the community demands it, there is an answer.”

“This is the security our students deserve” she added. “These are all our children and we need to protect them. “

DOE Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi said on Tuesday evening that schools are “Committed to ensuring that learning takes place as much as possible and providing homework for students who are in quarantine due to COVID.” “

He added that students learning at home during quarantine use a variety of tools, including work packages designed to be completed during quarantine, assignment to a Google classroom and other forms of virtual learning. .

Additionally, the ministry is partnering with the state Department of Health to coordinate school-based COVID-19 testing for eligible students and staff at no cost through federally funded programs.

“By the end of this week, all public schools will be registered for training to participate in the Operation Expanded Testing program,” Hayashi said by e-mail. “We are grateful for the many new free and accessible testing opportunities that have been made available statewide as schools strive to speed up testing programs.”

The DOE chief said time and energy must be focused on working together as a community to coexist with COVID-19 for the long term.

“It means building on lessons learned, adapting to updated science and advice, and collaborating on realistic solutions focused on keeping students safe in the classroom.” he said.

Starting last week in Kapolei, when around 200 teachers from Leeward Oahu staged an outdoor picket, teachers across the state are holding protests in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the challenges facing schools. A protest at DOE headquarters in Honolulu took place Tuesday afternoon, the Hawaii State Teachers Association said.

The HSTA is the exclusive representative of 13,500 public school teachers statewide.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be contacted at [email protected] Writer and photographer Matthew Thayer contributed to this report.

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