What A School Year!

Aren’t you glad that you are retired? And if you are not, do you wish you were? This will be a school year unlike any other. Hawaii’s teachers have lived through five work stoppages, two major hurricanes, asbestos removal, the Felix Consent Decree, complicated federal laws and frequent changes in Department of Education leadership. They will live through the nightmare that is Covid-19, rise above it and produce some outstanding teaching techniques which will serve students well. I taught six grade and I think I would struggle to teach under this pandemic. I can’t imagine what it will mean to be a primary grade teacher having to keep kids masks on and making sure that they are six feet apart.

All of this will happen despite the fact, in my opinion, the Department failed to put together a viable school opening plan coordinated with other state and/or county agency. As educators, we were reluctant to admit that we are also a ‘substantial’ childcare agency that has education as its major function. But we are not the only child agency in the community. What would happen if the DOE worked with the state, county and private childcare agencies to provide childcare for working parents/guardians? What if a special summer fun program was created to allow students to socialize? How much better would it be if the Department of Education did the necessary work to ensure that schools were safe with necessary PPE equipment and supplies rather than require schools and/or their employees to purchase the necessary supplies out of their own pockets?

What would happen if the Department of Education provide hazard leave for those employees whose bodies are vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus, so they do not have to use their sick leave? Of course, the state should provide hazard pay for those employees who must report to work running the risk of infection.

Distance teaching is a special skill requiring techniques that take practice to be sure that the lessons can be seen via the technology that students will use. How many students have access to desktop computers, laptop computer or iPad? The DOE wants them to use Chromebooks and those are the computers the DOE wants purchased. Thanks to Senator Kidani who was able to get a significant amount of money put in the budget to purchase new school laptops for 12,000 students but a significant number of students do have technology and of the ones who have computers, there is no information of how many know how to use it. To compound the situation, not all students have access to the internet nor is there any evidence that the Department of Education has worked out an arrangement with either Spectrum or Hawaiian Telcom to provide free internet service to students.

To compound the school situation, medicine does not yet confidently know how children get infected, how serious is the infection and how do they pass it on to others especially older adults. The recent news stories indicate the infecting of children is more serious than first thought. However, there is general agreement that some will contract the virus. And some adults that work with students will contract the virus. But the bottom line is that schools are going to open.

How can you help the schools? Check with the principal of your favorite public school. Can you buy hand sanitizers? Do you have a laptop you can donate? Can you build carrels for the student desks? Can you help supervise recess, lunch or nap time to give the staff some relief? The list is endless. Be sure, however, that whatever you do will keep you safe.

When this nightmare is over, there will be many key learnings. Teachers always make a bad system work. With mediocre support from the state office, teachers, administrators made the best of what resources they had. Someday, teachers will be able to work in a well-designed, well-funded system that appreciates the value of the work that they do and the community will realize that they need to demand the government agencies not plan at the last minute.

Stay safe and keep our teachers and students in your prayers.

- By Joan Lee Husted

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