Friday, April 6, 2001


As the sun beat down on the first day of teacher picketing, Ala Wai
Elementary School music teacher Jolene Kim walked the line
with her umbrella with a message yesterday afternoon.

Teacher solidarity
is strikingly high

Principals say they doubt
their schools will reopen
by Monday

By Christine Donnelly

Public school principals said teacher solidarity seems so high they doubt many schools will resume classes Monday as top state officials are hoping.

"Truthfully, the schools are going to stay closed. I've got a 99 percent walkout here, and they're not coming back until they get a settlement," said Patrick Seely, principal of Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary School in Hilo.

UHPA HSTA strike logo "The superintendent has always said, 'We want the schools open,' but it would be an unsafe mess to try to do it without enough teachers. I've got 600 kids."

State schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu decided in advance to close all public schools the first two days of the strike, then reassess each day whether individual schools, or even grade levels, could be reopened.

Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said yesterday it was too early to predict whether any would reopen Monday. But such information should be available by tomorrow morning, accessible via the department's Web site at or by calling 586-4636 for a recorded message, he said.

Neighbor island callers can call the state's toll-free access numbers, which are 974-4000 for the island of Hawaii, 274-3141 for Kauai, 984-2400 for Maui and 1-800-468-4644 for Molokai and Lanai.

All but 118 of the teachers union's 12,516 members walked out the first day, for a strike rate above 99 percent, said Danielle Lum, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "We are confident that teachers will stay out for the duration," she said.

Knudsen said the ability to resume classes does not depend solely on teachers crossing picket lines.

"There are other professional educators who are not on strike, and it depends on what they can be assigned to do," he said.

He added that whether to reopen would depend on a school having enough staff to "ensure student safety as well as a meaningful instructional program." Classes would have to be supervised by professional educators, he said.

"We're not talking about baby-sitting. We won't rely on volunteers or cafeteria workers."

Across the state, principals expressed hopes for a quick settlement.

"I support the teachers 100 percent. We had schools that were really starting to move along nicely, and now look, we're back at square one," said Seely, former president of the Hawaii Government Employees Association's Unit 6, which represents principals and vice principals.

Virtually all full-time public school employees are unionized, and sympathy from the nonstriking units helped bolster the mood of teachers walking the picket lines.

"I know what it's like out there," said Roosevelt High School Principal Dennis Hokama, who struck in 1973 when he was still a teacher. Current strikers include his wife, who teaches at Kuhio Elementary School and is also a veteran of the 1973 walkout.

Hokama said all but one of Roosevelt's 97 teachers were on strike, and he doubted classes would resume Monday.

"I think they're an extremely cohesive group. Let's keep our fingers crossed that there will be a settlement this weekend," he said. "I hope reasonable minds can meet."

The HSTA represents teachers, counselors and school librarians. School custodians and cafeteria workers belong to the United Public Workers. The HGEA represents most other school-level employees, including principals, vice principals, athletic directors and trainers, clerical staff, classroom aides and security guards.

HGEA spokesman Randy Kusaka said union leaders have told school-level members that "even though your heart may be with those on the picket line, legally and contractually you have to go to work and do your job." However, HGEA members were advised to call the union if asked to do more than their own jobs on campus, he said, adding that he knew of no such complaints the first day.

Principals on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui and Molokai said nonstriking employees have reported for work as usual, emphasizing that it was the lack of teachers that would keep schools closed.

"Parents should prepare. I really seriously doubt there will be classes here" Monday, said Linda Puleloa, principal of Molokai High and Intermediate School, which has more than 760 students in grades seven through 12.

Puleloa said picketing teachers "were very respectful but also very clear: They'll be out until they get a better contract."

>> HSTA Web site
>> UHPA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site

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