The Guam Department of Education was cited by the federal government for environmental health and safety issues involving Head Start programs at several schools.
During a site visit from Jan. 17-19 at Daniel L. Perez Elementary School in Yigo, and others, officials found operational issues that violated children’s rights.
These issues are deemed the responsibility of the Guam Education Board, as the Head Start program falls under their authority.
“There’s some issues here that are of concern that were raised during the visit, and we need to address this once and for all. Under Title 17, this board has oversight over the Head Start (program). … Reading some of the findings, it really, really bothered me. And this is me. It bothered me,” Maria Gutierrez, vice chairperson, said during this month's GEB monthly meeting.
During the meeting, GEB Chairperson Mary Okada said an action report had been created and accepted by the board to address the severe issues that will also be reviewed and approved by the federal government.
“There are environmental health and safety issues, primarily at D.L. Perez. There are indications of child right violations and there are some children that are being supervised by non-Head Start staff,” Okada said.
Okada stressed that GDOE is taking these violations very seriously and that they will continue to monitor the situation.
“In the meantime, the Guam Department of Education Board … will be closely monitoring all the activities associated with this,” Okada said.
Facilities in disrepair
The visit revealed issues including improper walkways, restrooms in disrepair, playgrounds without fencing, and not having enough staff in their employ to watch young students.
Restrooms “are broken” and “playgrounds … are not fenced,” Okada said.
She gave a formal apology to the public on behalf of the board and GDOE, reassuring the community that measures have been taken and that an action plan and timeline will be followed to rectify the issues.
GEB board member Lourdes Benavente was in agreement with Okada and stated that she saw, firsthand, the grave state of D.L. Perez.
“We will be monitoring this. There is a timeline for all in this action plan. … As a committee, we will hold you accountable because it’s safety and it is for our children,” Benavente said.
Corrective action plan
The areas that have been identified for visits to determine whether fencing is needed, and how much would need to be installed around the playgrounds include D.L. Perez, Wettengel Elementary School, Machananao Elementary School, Chief Brodie Memorial Elementary School, and Marcial A. Sablan Elementary School.
According to Okada, it was noted during a debrief that there is a surplus or unobligated amount of money of about $1.2 million that was available for the fencing.
Gutierrez was baffled that, with all the money available to Head Start, there would be issues such as these - let alone that the principals at those schools have yet to do something about it.
“There is no reason that those playgrounds are not fenced. A principal told me yesterday, ‘OK, we are working on it.’ … There’s no reason for that restroom not to be fixed,” Gutierrez said.
According to Head Start officials, this was the first time these issues for D.L. Perez were being brought to the attention of the board.
“We will be asking for a revision of our grant … and we’ve already gone to the schools to look at the fencing,” said Cathy Morris Schroeder, program director of Guam's Head Start program.
Schroeder noted the fencing has been brought to the attention of the principals, and that a revision of the Head Start grant needed to be made in order to properly address the state of the restrooms.
“In this carry-over grant, I’ve also put $30,000 … to fix the restroom that the Head Start children use,” Schroeder said. “I also added Marcial Sablan (Elementary School) because that restroom is also in the same condition.”
According to Schroeder, restrooms and fencing were not the only issues that schools were facing. They were also plagued by fleas in the classroom.
“There’s yellow tape all over the place. We just got moved today because there were fleas in our classroom because there were dogs running rampant. … We are working with the schools on this,” Schroeder said.
GDOE and Head Start officials said that they have made plans to rectify all the issues cited by the federal government and will revisit the issues at the next GEB meeting.