Underwood Requests that GDOE Review and Strengthen Sexual Harassment Policy

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This is after the sexual harassment complaint filed against GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez. She also asked to postpone GDOE’s budget hearing.

Guam – Budget talks were supposed to start this morning for the Guam Department of Education, but due to the sexual harassment complaint made against GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez, Education Oversight Chair Senator Nerissa Underwood postponed the budget hearing and is requesting that GDOE strengthen its sexual harassment policy.

 

I asked for a postponement for the budget hearing because I had received very serious reports about allegations about sexual misconduct or sexual harassment and at the same time, allegations of extortion against the Superintendent,” says Underwood.

Underwood explains that this is the first time a Guam Department of Education Superintendent was accused of anything of that nature. In her request to the Vice Speaker’s Office to postpone the budget hearing, Underwood explains that part of her reasoning is to ensure that the hearing does not interfere with the investigation into the recent allegations against GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez. There was also a mention of a possible Acting Superintendent. 
 
Underwood states, “The role of the department is to protect students and employees and we want to ensure that the integrity of the department and the integrity of the superintendency, which right now is under attack, is actually preserved and the only way to do that is to allow for the investigation to take its place. The Acting Superintendent was mentioned because the procedures that we had always used within the department is that whenever there is an allegation about a misconduct against an employee alleged by a student, we remove the employee from the environment where the student is at and we report it to the police department and then we conduct an investigation.”
 
Underwood explains that she does not know how the Guam Education Board wants to proceed with the accusations or if an internal investigation will be launched. Although, Underwood says she met with the Guam Education Board Chairwoman Lou San Nicolas earlier this afternoon to request that the department strengthen its sexual harassment policy before the start of the school year. In fact, she asks for a copy of the draft new policy and a time-line for the adoption and implementation of proposed policy by July 13.
 
Underwood says, “There is a draft update to the existing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct but those are in draft form and they have not gone through the work session so we just urge them to expedite that process, to ensure that the policy is strengthened.”
 
Underwood hopes that this issue will be resolved.
 
She says, “I certainly feel for the superintendent. I have always expressed my support for his leadership because he has really done a lot for the department. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our employees and our students so whenever there are allegations of this nature, we have to take it seriously. The accountability is not just for the superintendent but also the accuser. They also have to be held accountable. If they’re false accusations then there are penalties for that, it’s law. This is not a pleasant issue to address but it has to be addressed.”
 
Underwood requested to the Vice Speaker’s Office that the budget hearing be held before July 15.