The Guam Department of Education has concerns regarding a piece of legislation introduced on April 17 that would mandate all Guam public schools to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, if passed into law.
Bill 98-37, which was introduced by Democrat Sen. William Parkinson, if enacted, would require Guam public schools to be ADA compliant.
This followed a recent roundtable hearing where concerns surfaced regarding special education in public schools. GDOE’s Special Education Division talked about various topics including ADA compliance.
According to Parkinson’s press release, one of the main requests of GDOE was for legislation that would make Guam’s public schools ADA compliant, as not many of them are. This poses a huge accessibility problem for students with disabilities.
Judith Won Pat, the acting superintendent for GDOE, said that the agency is in support of the legislative measure, during an interview with the Pacific News Center.
“We want to be ADA compliant,” said Won Pat.
She has reservations about the bill, although she supports the legislation.
“What we’re concerned about is on page three where it says GDOE shall allocate adequate financial resources to be compliant where we may seek federal grants, and partnerships with federal and local agencies,” Won Pat said.
She told the Pacific News Center that she’s worried as the bill suggests using funds from the American Rescue Plan, which have already been designated.
“That money has already been earmarked to go out to repair school campuses,” Won Pat shared with PNC. “So, it’s kind of hurting us in a sense that now we’re going to try to dip into these monies when they have already been earmarked. That’s what really makes it difficult for us.”
An alternative to the bill, she said, is to provide funding.
“If they are going to be willing to provide the funding rather than us going out to seek funding,” Won Pat said. “Can you imagine if we don’t and we can’t and we’re rejected or can’t find grants then automatically we will not be in compliance. We want to be, no doubt, we want to totally be in compliance. But we all know that money is required for us to become compliant.”
The measure would also require GDOE to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to ensure that all public schools in Guam are fully compliant with the accessibility requirements of the ADA. The plan shall include, but not be limited to things such as an accessibility audit of every school, a timeline for addressing areas of non-compliance, and detailed specifications for modifications and improvements.
Won Pat is worried about this part of the bill as well, because the audit must be conducted by accessibility experts, which she believes isn’t available on the island.
GDOE accommodates students with disabilities attending school with multiple floors by scheduling classes on the first floor or by building ramps, she said.
Additionally, the bill mandates that GDOE teachers receive training on ADA requirements and that GDOE provide regular progress reports to the Guam Legislature on the implementation of the plan.
Meanwhile, Democrat Sen. Chris Barnett said that “The bill is a good idea.”
“I doubt GDOE has enough funding to come into compliance with Public Law 37-4 and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Barnett, the chairperson of the Legislative Committee on Education.
He suggested including all local government agencies across the island.
“Senator Parkinson’s measure could easily be expanded to include facilities across the island and the Government of Guam,” Barnett said. “The Leon Guerrero Tenorio administration, like other administrations before it, has failed to bring true accessibility to persons with disabilities. No matter the cost, this is an unacceptable failure (and) we must address it with action.”