The Guam Department of Education has been waiting for updated guidance from the Department of Public Health and Social Services since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on June 19.
During GDOE’s federal programs workshop, Public Health provided some draft guidance that is still pending approval by health officials.
“Everyone knows that the goal is to get to five days of instruction. Until the June updated CDC guidance, it was kind of tough,” said Jon Fernandez, GDOE superintendent.
Fernandez said he hopes to have the final rules from Public Health by Monday.
Based on CDC and Public Health guidance, GDOE has developed nine strategies to mitigate COVID-19 spread within school facilities.
Part of the strategies is the implementation of CDC’s 3-foot physical distancing rule in the classroom and six feet in areas such as the cafeteria.
“Because we are saying if you are going to have to maintain three feet, some of your classes can’t maintain 3 feet or 6 feet in the cafeteria, 6 feet in the classroom. So there’s a bunch of different scenarios, we were working through,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez has said that while many schools are ready to move forward with the requirements with one cohort, there are some schools that aren’t quite ready yet based on their capacity. For instances such as this, GDOE has considered other options for student instruction.
“So in those cases ... based on those numbers they would have to do two cohorts,” said Fernandez.
This is an option explored by schools like F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School, where some of the classrooms are small and can’t accommodate a maximum class load based on the distancing guidelines.
“It’s on the details that we really want to make sure we are in line. On this level when we saw follow CDC I think we are good to go but when we are talking about the details and what Public Health actually puts in its rules, we want to make sure we are on the same page,” Fernandez said.
“The guidance from CDC is, 'This is what we recommend, but if you don’t, it's not the thing that should keep you from bringing students in for in-person learning.'"
In such cases, Fernandez said the other health and safety strategies come into play.
“The mask becomes more important; the hand washing is important, the sanitizing, so that’s really where we are at,” Fernandez said.
At this point, Fernandez said schools are welcoming the 3-foot rule in the classrooms, but the department needs further clarification on the 6-foot rule.
“Three feet – it is welcomed; that will help us get to five days of instruction for all students. The other piece – the 6-foot rule when they go into the cafeteria, the playground – we need to figure out what the language is going to be around that,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said that the team working on taking the guidance and making sure that schools understand it still has lingering questions.
“There’s still some feedback from some schools saying 'OK, 3 feet is fine, but is the 6 feet still going to apply in the cafeteria' or is it going to be flexible or is it going to be a hard line?,” Fernandez said.
If the latter is the case, Fernandez said that accommodations must be made.
“We can do the classroom, but then lunch, we are going to have to multiply and they are developing plans for multiple lunch periods. Some of the schools are saying if the rules don’t change, we are going to have to use some classrooms to do some feeding and so forth,” Fernandez said.
The discussion is active, and during the workshop, GDOE administrators and staff were provided the opportunity to give input to Public Health officials.