DODEA to reopen Guam schools; GDOE sticks to January

LESSONS TO GO: Teacher's assistant Donna Cruz hands over student assignments while at the same time accepting work assigned the previous week during the Astumbo Elementary School grab-and-go lesson pickup on Sept. 3 in Dededo. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Even as the Guam Education Board mulled the new policies for attendance and grading, face-to-face instruction for Guam Department of Education remains off the table until January at the earliest.

In a letter to the board, Superintendent Jon Fernandez said public schools will not offer face-to-face instruction throughout the second quarter of the school year, based on the current public health emergency status and GDOE's risk assessment.

However, the Department of Defense Education Activity Pacific West is planning to resume in-person instruction on Oct. 26 at all of its schools for military dependents on Guam, according to a notice posted on its Facebook page. 

According to its post, military installations on island recently lowered their risk assessment, allowing for the transition of students to traditional schooling. From Oct. 20-22, staff will receive “training on COVID-19 mitigation strategies and protocols” as well as prepare their classrooms for students’ return.

GDOE attendance and grading

For Guam public schools under GDOE, the Guam Education Board voted to let the chosen home learning models determine the criteria for attendance.

Under attendance, a class for hard-copy learners is defined as the school’s distribution day, and absence reflects a failure to pick up items. For online learners, “class” will be defined by the teacher using the regularly scheduled meeting days on the preferred learning management system. For both sets of learners, attendance will be taken once a week.

For all grade levels, the first quarter will not be a summative assessment, instead the grade will serve as a progress report for the first semester. Marks will be given for students passing, not showing enough evidence to determine passing or no grade.

High schools will follow GDOE's regular grading policy for the second quarter, with a final percentage grade for the semester.

However, elementary and middle schools, for second quarter and beyond, will reflect a 5-level, tiered grading system:

4 - Exceeding

3 - Proficient

2 - Approaching proficiency

1 - Needs support

0 - No grade or no evidence that can determine a grade

January at the earliest

Fernandez reiterated similar comments made to media in prior interviews, stating traditional classroom instruction likely will not occur until January 2021.

The District School Readiness Task Force was reactivated, he said, “to update the reopening plan that was developed and presented to the community over the summer.”

The plan will be reviewed and refined, he stated, based on the “experience over the past few months and the experiences of other school districts that have worked to reopen over the past several months.”

Determining who goes back to school

Fernandez said he has also asked the panel to look at options for a back-to-school plan for phasing in students. Originally, the plan was for an alternating schedule for all students seeking in-person instruction, allowing for social distancing and other safety measures.

However, GDOE will be reviewing other reopening options, he said, adding that face-to-face instruction may be limited to certain grade levels, school levels or groups of students who would benefit most from the traditional classroom environment.

"In other districts, we have seen schools reopen to elementary students only, specific grade levels, English language learners, students with disabilities and other priority groups, for example. We will review the options and scenarios that would make sense for our students and our community," he added.

The governor will have the final say on whether schools, both public and private, will open for traditional instruction, but according to GDOE spokeswoman Isa Baza, the department is in regular communication with the governor and she has indicated she will be leaving it to GDOE and private and charter schools to determine when and how to open.

DODEA returns Oct. 26

The return of DODEA to in-person instruction will be done under strict safety measures, the DODEA office stated in a letter.

The schools have been working with military base leaders and public health officials to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, DODEA stated.

All teachers have sanitation stations in their rooms and will ensure classroom surfaces and other objects are disinfected throughout the day, the letter stated.

Masks will be required. Face coverings with valves and neck gaiters will not be allowed, according to the the Department of Defense Education Activity.

“We require parents to perform a short check each morning within two hours of arrival to school,” DODEA stated in a letter to Guam High School families on the school’s Facebook page. “Students without a copy of this signed form on file will be prohibited from attending school in-person.”

Protective barriers have been installed in high traffic areas at the school.

Some of Guam’s private schools, including Harvest Christian Academy, have petitioned to be allowed to reopen in-class learning under strict safety guidelines.

But in a press conference Thursday, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero stated she didn’t feel it was safe to greenlight in-class learning because of the rising COVID-19 numbers.

She has said Guam is in a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

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