An agreement made public this week between the State Ethics Commission and the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) settles the issue of teachers receiving free travel while serving as chaperones on official public school educational trips.
A press release announcing the agreement, and the full text of the agreement, were posted on the commission’s website on Tuesday, January 3.
The agreement settles a long running dispute between the commission and HSTA which included a long set of guidelines approved by the commission severely restricting and, in practice, virtually eliminating educational trips by students and teachers. Those guidelines were challenged by HSTA, first in an appeal to the commission itself, and then to court, where the commission’s opinion was overturned. HSTA was represented by attorney Colleen Hanabusa, who was reelected to a seat in Congress in November and was just seated this week.
The joint press release mention the two years of legal wrangling. But the settlement agreement itself is quite specific. It references both the administrative appeal and lawsuit, and acknowledges the agreement reached “in order to avoid the further expense and risk of litigation, and to provide clarity for HSTA’s members in the immediate future regarding their ability to organize, promote, and chaperone student travel, the Undersigned Parties now desire to mutually and finally resolve and compromise all issues and claims….”
In the end, the agreement is substantively very simple.
It allows teachers to accept free air fare and hotel accommodations while serving as chaperones on educational trips that comply with current or future Department of Education rules.
It prohibits teachers from accepting additional gratuities from travel companies, such as stipends, iPads, or travel vouchers, although these can be accepted if DOE rules allow them to be accepted by the schools or the department.
And the commission retains jurisdiction over potential direct conflicts of interest.
Teachers who consider selecting a Tour Company in which they (or a family member) have a financial interest should contact the Ethics Commission for guidance so as to avoid any violations of conflict of interest / fair treatment laws; the Ethics Commission retains the authority to investigate and charge individuals with violations of these provisions as appropriate.
It looks like an agreement that could and should have been reached nearly two years ago.
One question arises: How and when was the agreement approved by the commission? The members of the ethics commission, and commission director Dan Gluck, along with a deputy attorney general representing the commission, all signed off on the agreement on December 22, 2016.
However, the commission’s scheduled meeting in December was cancelled, and there’s no indication on the official State Calendar of a meeting being held.
It’s possible that the agreement was approved in executive session in November. If so, though, would it require a publicly posted meeting for the commissioners to all gather in order to execute the agreement? At this point, I’m not sure, but it’s worth asking the question.