Guam Department of Education Working to Keep Schools Open for Students
Due to the latest surge of COVID-19 cases, the Guam Department of Education (GDOE) continues to monitor the public health situation and coordinate its efforts to keep schools in operation in line with guidance from the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS).
The increase in the numbers of individuals who have tested positive, or are required to test due to contact tracing, has impacted school staffing levels over the past two weeks; this has been further exacerbated by the additional time it is taking for employees to get tested, obtain their results, and be cleared to return to work. GDOE continues to work with DPHSS to review the updated public health guidance and to address obstacles affecting the safe return of employees to the workplace.
“Despite the steep rise in new cases, no new restrictions are being required by the Governor or DPHSS at this time,” said GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez. “Based on this, we are continuing our efforts to stay in operation and provide students with five days of in-person instruction per week, and we are doing our best to shore up schools that are dealing with employee shortages, which is our biggest challenge at this point.”
Currently, schools rely on available substitute teachers, teacher assistants, and community program aides to cover classes or assist with supervision on campus. In addition, GDOE’s Student Support Services Division established “Operation Guardian” to provide a rapid response approach to help address school administrators’ requests for additional support. Every morning, schools are requested to submit information regarding the number of staff needed to assist on campus, and central office staff members are then deployed to those schools as requested. Over the past two weeks, the central office has deployed between 30 to 60 employees daily in response to school requests. Of GDOE’s 41 schools, the number of schools requesting support has generally been between five and fifteen per day.
“We are closely monitoring the staffing needs and requests from schools, and we are committed to providing the necessary daily support to keep schools in operation,” said Fernandez. “While the central office activities remain important, our primary mission is to ensure that our kids can come to school for their education, and I am thankful that our team has come together to meet this mission.”
Operation Guardian is intended to be a short-term measure to assist schools in dealing with the current surge in new cases. However, the GDOE does have contingency plans in the event that the numbers increase further, and central office support cannot be sustained.
“If the situation gets worse, we do not anticipate shifting the entire school system to remote learning,” said Fernandez. “Instead, our contingency plan would be to shift one or two schools to remote learning, and then move the staff from those schools to other schools in need of support. In this way, we would have a targeted approach that would avoid disrupting any of the other schools that can remain in operation.”
In response to questions about specific school staffing numbers, Fernandez confirmed that today, F.B. Leon Guerrero, for example, reported 19 faculty and 4 staff who were unable to come to work. In addition to seven vacant positions at the school, there were five positive cases, one on maternity leave, two on long-term leave, five on sick leave, three in quarantine, two on jury duty, two getting tested, and three awaiting test results. After assessing its staffing needs, FBLG requested four staff members from the central office who were deployed to assist.
“We will continue to monitor the needs at schools and their requests for support,” said Fernandez. “We hope and anticipate that the number of cases will start to decline, but if not, we have a plan for getting through this, whether we rely on central office support for a little longer or begin to target certain schools to go online. Either way, our priority is to do what we can to keep schools open and safe for all of our kids and employees.”
—END OF STATEMENT—
Below is the official press release:PRESS RELEASE Guam Department of Education Working to Keep Schools Open for Students .docx