Guam Department of Education in-person instruction students are returning to a 5-day schedule today despite an earlier plan to phase in the new schedule and start at a later date.
“The start date for the return to five days of instruction is Monday, November 29, 2021. We will work hard and do the best we can to ensure a smooth return of all students to five days of instruction,” GDOE Superintendent said in a brief statement sent to PNC.
However, a number of parents and teachers have complained that they were not properly informed about the new schedule and thus had less time to prepare for it.
Fernandez had originally planned to implement a phased-in approach, with high school students returning to the 5-day schedule first, on Dec. 1, and then the elementary and middle school students following suit on Jan. 3, right after the Christmas break.
But last Tuesday night, Nov. 23, the Guam Education Board approved a resolution put forward by board member Maria Gutierrez authorizing in-person instruction students to return to a 5-day schedule by Nov. 29.
This is two days earlier than the original plan and mandates all in-person instruction students to start the 5-day schedule, not just the high school students. Online students are exempted from this mandate.
The approval of the resolution also effectively gave teachers, school officials, and parents only one working day to prepare before the start of the 4-day Thanksgiving weekend.
Guam Federation of Teachers president Tim Fedenko had argued passionately in favor of delaying the return of the younger students.
He said he had no problem with the high school students returning early because they’ve had a longer period of time to get vaccinated already.
But he said the rollout for the pediatric vaccination occurred barely two weeks ago.
“Let’s give the younger students a chance to get vaccinated. What’s a few days more delay?” Fedenko said.
But Gutierrez and other board members who voted in favor of the resolution believe that the board has to act now to return face-to-face students to the 5-day schedule because public school students are losing out when it comes to learning, the more the 5-day schedule is delayed.
GDOE can also be sued for missing the required number of instructional days.
The vote was six in favor of the early return and three against.
Many parents, however, have taken to social media to express their opposition to the early start of the 5-day schedule.
One parent posted on PNC’s social media page: “IMO I think this should wait until after the holiday season/ first semester. Families will be traveling and celebrating during this time and waiting to see what the COVID numbers look like. It might be a safer and smarter decision to send them back after a few weeks, get their break for the holiday.”
Another wrote: “Have we not learned anything by now! I’m all for a return to full schedule but here we go again opening the floodgates with blindfolds on! This is the first holiday with restrictions eased. Why not start them in phases to be sure holiday gatherings and the ease of restrictions don’t put us back, especially now that we’re seeing the numbers drop.”
There were also those who criticized the approval of the 5-day schedule resolution without input from the parents and teachers.
One parent wrote: “They shouldn’t make any decisions without the parents’ consent and concerns.”
One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told PNC: “As a high school teacher, since we were expecting December 1 as the start date, most of us assumed we would have Monday and Tuesday to rearrange our classroom setup to accommodate the full load of students. I, unfortunately, did not have a prep period on Wednesday, Nov 24 since with the block schedule, we only have prep periods every other day. I had to use my lunchtime that I didn’t have time to eat. I also used some time after work to try and prepare. I can only imagine what elementary and middle school teachers feel because they were not even a part of the discussion the district had with teachers on November 18. At least high school teachers were expecting it around that time. GEB decided on the early start without even hearing their input. I assume they met with all the principals prior, but that is not the same as meeting with the teachers.”
However, there were also some who supported the quick return of students to a 5-day schedule.
“How long do u want our kids in the box? Blindfolds?… COVID has been around for almost 2 years now with our vax rate among the highest in the world…we now know more and enough to start living our lives,” one parent said.
Another said: “Guess what? Private schools have been open since day one.”
For GEB Chairman Mark Mendiola, it’s important that GDOE return the kids to the classroom and maximize instructional time in school.
“We feel that we are now safe enough for children to go to school every day, and it’s time that we focus on recovering the learning that was lost due to the pandemic,” Mendiola said.
Today, all GDOE schools will continue to be open at their regularly scheduled time, and buses will continue to operate on their set schedule and routes. However, students are required to attend school every day, instead of in cohorts.
Schools will also continue to implement a multi-layered safety approach to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This includes universal face mask requirements, good handwashing, and respiratory etiquette, frequent cleaning and disinfecting of commonly used surfaces, physical distancing, and contact tracing.
In addition, GDOE will be working with the Department of Public Health and Social Services and other private providers to facilitate vaccination efforts in the community.