Some private and charter schools may be opening classrooms to students as soon as Monday, following the governor's executive order authorizing in-person learning.
However, the Guam Department of Education, with approximately 26,000 students attending 41 schools, is eyeing Sept. 27, Deputy Superintendent of Operations Erika Cruz told Guam Education Board members Thursday at a work session.
The additional week will give GDOE time to transition teachers and students from the current online program to the more traditional face-to-face learning.
The sheer size of the student population within the department, and the fact that children under age 12 can’t be vaccinated against COVID-19, have prompted school leadership, government and health officials to take specific measures.
“Our plan is to use a risk-based approach to reopening, which would be based on the community transmission risk level as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez said. Students will be divided into two groups, with each group attending classes on different days of the week, Fernandez said.
The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community and, more specifically, among younger children, raised concerns among parents. Some health officials have said the delta variant of the coronavirus has been affecting more children than the earlier strains of SARS-CoV-2.
Department of Public Health and Social Services data shows that more children have been catching the virus and expressing symptoms in the last few months, when compared to last year.
In the last month, there have been 3,748 new positive COVID-19 cases.
Of those, 607 were children ages 0-11, or 16.2% of the total, according to DPHSS data.
“The surge of cases among those ages 0-11 began around Aug. 23, 2021. In mid-August, this age group had 10 cases per day (on average) and has increased most recently to 25 cases a day,” the DPHSS report for August and September states.
Of the cases among those age 0-11 years old, 194, or 32%, reported being exposed in their households. And 43, or 7%, reported being exposed in their community.
Additionally, for those age 0-11 years, more COVID-19-positive cases tend to be in older children age 6-11.
Oct. 4 discussed
Several education board members acknowledged the community’s concerns, noting the need to take the time to ensure proper safety measures are in place before bringing students back into the classroom.
Board member Peter Alecxis Ada said he wasn’t comfortable with the Sept. 27 date for reopening.
“I am all in favor of returning face-to-face. However, the numbers seem to scare me. The numbers of people being admitted to hospitals, transmission being it from home or elsewhere,” Ada said during the meeting, which was held prior to Adelup releasing news of the executive order. “My thought is, rather than going on the Sept. 20, to allow a little more data, how about Oct. 4 as an opening date?”
Cruz said Sept. 20 was the date given by the governor, who consulted with health officials on the data used to determine the risk in opening schools. Cruz added that GDOE won’t reopen until Sept. 27. However, Ada was adamant about pushing that back a week.
“(If) we authorize going to schools and the numbers go up and we are told we have to close again, parents are going to be very frustrated and angry. We don’t want that to happen,” Ada said. "Safety is above all for children and that’s the parents' concern.”
Fernandez said the department, too, would like to see “the numbers go down much lower - like it was in July.” He said the risk-based approach would allow only 50% of the face-to-face student population to be in classrooms on a given day.