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Education bills advancing to full House and Senate

HONOLULU — House and Senate conference committees plan to forward a host of education-related bills this week to the full House and Senate for final approval. That includes a statewide registry, which would document and share all school staff misdeeds, along with other bills to ease qualifications for teacher licenses in Hawai‘i and provide more funding for Hawaiian immersion education.

But a House bill championed by students to encourage local food consumption in public schools stalled.

House Bill 2083 would have required the state Department of Education to encourage schools to develop a plan to achieve a goal of 30 percent farm-to-school meals by 2030.

The bill also would have required the DOE to launch a pilot program for plant-based meals at Mililani High School by the 2025-26 academic year.

HB 2083 was heard by three conference committees on Friday before getting deferred.

“I don’t think we were able to get an agreement on this measure,” state Rep. Cedric Gates (D, Waianae-Makaha), one of the House conferees, said during the bill’s last hearing. “I think we’re going to have to try again next year, so we’re going to defer this indefinitely.”

Mililani High School teacher Bonnie Parker submitted written testimony on behalf of students in Mililani High Sustainable Food Systems and Agriculture classes, including Mililani High senior Chauney Joines, who said less than 2 percent to 6 percent of the food served on campus comes from local sources.

Joines said in his testimony that HB 2083 would create “a great cycle and system for High Schools.”

Camilla Isla, another student, believes it would be beneficial for Mililani High students to have access to fresh produce for lunch.

“It would encourage healthier eating habits amongst our students, as well as boost the businesses of local farms located here in Hawai‘i,” Isla wrote.

Another student who has an allergy to red meat supported the bill for plant-based meals.

“I would greatly appreciate an alternative meal option on days when the school-lunch entree is red meat,” Talia Benson wrote.

“I just want to say mahalo to all the folks who tried,” state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo-Kalaeloa), one of the Senate conferees, said during a conference committee. “This was an important bill that was inspired by students.”

Senate Bill 2257 would amend current law to broaden qualifications for teacher licensing in Hawai‘i to help fill Hawai‘i’s teacher shortage.

It would remove barriers to teacher licensing for education professionals who have industry experience but lack a degree.

The bill would authorize the Hawai‘i Teacher Standards Board to evaluate people who have either an associate’s degree or a high school diploma, along with equivalent education, relevant course work, industry experience and subject matter proficiency.

SB 2475 would serve as a safety measure for students in public, private, charter schools and pre-kindergarten programs by helping to deter hiring school staff who have been found to have caused harm to a student in the past.

The bill would require all K-12 educational institutions statewide to maintain a “student harm registry” of all school staff, contractors and volunteers who — following an investigation — have been found to have caused harm to a student and share the information with other schools.

Schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi submitted written testimony agreeing with the Legislature that creating a registry would help prevent employing people who harm children.

“Increasing the ability of both private and public pre K-12 educational institutions to communicate and provide vital information to consider in rendering employment decisions is critically important to maintaining healthy and safe learning environments for all of Hawai‘i’s keiki,” Haya­shi wrote.

The Hawai‘i Teacher Standards Board submitted written testimony that the registry would help a discipline process that already allows the DOE to temporarily remove a person from the classroom or school premises during an ongoing investigation.

Punahou School President Michael Latham, in written testimony, said the current statute allows schools to often dismiss employees for engaging in misconduct, “but bad actors frequently are hired by other institutions where they may continue to prey on vulnerable students.”

Latham noted that in certain instances, schools might choose not to exchange information to avoid defamation claims. Legal settlements also could prevent the dissemination of warnings crucial for student safety.

“The Harm to Students Registry created by this bill will require schools to report the names of perpetrators to a central registry, provide schools with indemnification as they act in good faith, and require school hiring officers to consult the registry and decline to hire individuals named in it,” Latham wrote.

HB 2074 addresses the requirements necessary to respond to the growing demand for Kaiapuni education — Hawaiian language immersion — by appropriating more funds to DOE.

The bill would set aside $3.5 million for fiscal year 2024-2025, including funding for three full-time equivalent Kaiapuni education curriculum specialist II positions and 10 full-time equivalent Kaiapuni classroom teacher positions.

The statewide council for Ka Papahana Kaiapuni wrote in testimony that the DOE currently funds 35 teacher positions across 22 DOE Kaiapuni schools.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs said in written testimony that the bill represents an “important and crucial step to provide Kaiapuni programs the specialized staffing that these Kaiapuni programs need for their expansion and sustainability.”
Source: The Garden Island

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