Testing, events now casualties of walkout
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i's teachers strike meant more than long negotiations and lost pay.
It delayed a major testing program, cost some students their last chance to participate in proms and state sports tournaments and meant a $60,000 loss for a local theater company, the Honolulu Theatre for Youth, that relies on public schools for much of its attendance. The company is considering layoffs.
It also sent teachers scrambling to make up 14 days of lost course work in the next 30 school days that remain before summer vacation.
"We don't pretend to say we're going to make up for all that lost time, but we'll ask teachers to take a close look at every student's needs," said state Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen. "We're asking teachers to provide additional help and to really focus on the students and help them get where they need to be."
The department's plan to gauge student achievement with a new reading, writing and math test will be pushed back a full year because of the strike.
The Hawai'i Assessment Program test the cornerstone of efforts to set new standards and boost student performance had been scheduled for this month. The test is meant to establish a baseline for measuring student improvement.
But moving ahead with it now would produce a "predictable disaster" because learning momentum has been lost, Knudsen said.
"We would want students to be in their best form for the test," he said. "I think it's fair to say there will be some adjustment needed when they get back to school."
Felix consent decree
The strike's most serious damage may have been to the effort to comply with the Felix consent decree.
The department is racing to meet a December deadline set by the federal court, when it must demonstrate improved special-education services.
The special education crisis came to a legal head in 1993 when seven special-needs children, including Jennifer Felix of Maui, filed a class-action suit against the state for not providing proper special education and mental health services. In December 1994, U.S. District Judge David Ezra issued the so-called Felix consent decree that ordered the state to seek out and identify children with special needs, then treat and educate each of them as close to home as possible.
Those involved with the Felix case say the three-week strike has seriously damaged the department's ability to do everything it was supposed to do this year. The state already has been found in contempt for not meeting an earlier deadline, and at the extreme, it faces a federal court takeover of the education system if it fails again.
While schools sat closed, the department had to cancel the service testing that determines if a school complex a high school and its feeder intermediate and elementary schools complies with the judge's requirements.
By June, the department was supposed to have two-thirds of its complexes in compliance. Because of the strike, that will likely be impossible, said Ivor Groves, the court-appointed monitor who is overseeing the department's progress.
'Marginally worse' economy
As teachers get back to school they also will have to deal with the potentially formidable problem of figuring out which students need "compensatory" services because of the days lost during the strike.
Ezra also has asked Groves to submit a written plan outlining what damage the strike has created and what may be needed to fix it.
The strike certainly didn't help the local economy, said Hawai'i Pacific University economics professor Leroy Laney, who forecast a modest 2.5 percent growth in Hawai'i's gross state product during calendar year 2001.
"I'm not predicting a disastrous economy in 2001, but I suspect it will be marginally worse," he said. "I expect the strike had some impact on consumer confidence in general, but I expect it would have been worse if it had gone on longer."
Year-end school field trips and special activities also will suffer because of the strike.
"We're asking the schools to pare them down and keep them to a minimum," Knudsen said. "We're saying, in the remaining days, let's focus on the academic objective. These are things the schools can do to maximize remaining instruction time."
No state tournaments
Schools have postponed or canceled many proms and performances, though some will be rescheduled.
However, state Superintendent of Schools Paul LeMahieu decided yesterday that public schools will not participate in any state sports tournaments because of the travel time that would be needed during school days.
Other sporting events may continue, but games and travel to games must not take place during class time, said LeMahieu.
Senior graduations should not be affected, but now is not the time for those students to slack off and party, Knudsen said.
"Students need to maintain their seriousness toward the end of the school year, and we're asking for any support parents can give at home to help them keep focused on their studies," he said. "We can probably make up a couple days that might otherwise be lost."
Advertiser Staff Writers Alice Keesing and Wayne Harada contributed to this report.