Governor will revisit stance on truancy enforcement

CLASSROOM SAFETY: To comply with social distancing requirements, desks have been separated in the classroom of Vicente S.A. Benavente Middle School social studies teacher Jay Milan in April. Transparent dividers sit atop the desks, with the covering still to be removed. Post file photo

The return of five days of instruction for public school students on Monday came with an additional request to reinstate enforcement of the truancy law, a decision in Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's hands.

On Tuesday, the Guam Education Board approved the return to five days a week of weekly instruction for face-to-face students. Part of the board resolution includes asking the governor to reinstate the enforcement of the truancy law.

The truancy law compels all compulsory-age students to remain in school. Enforcement of this law was suspended by the governor in consideration of parents who may refuse to send their children to school because of fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution's author, GEB health and safety committee chairwoman Maria Gutierrez, pushed for the suspension to be lifted.

Reinstating enforcement of the truancy law would "ensure that GDOE is able to enforce compulsory education for all students,” Gutierrez wrote in the resolution.

A decision in favor of the resolution would mean that parents and guardians who do not comply with the compulsory age for children to remain in school are subject to legal action. But, is it a decision the governor is willing to make?

The Guam Daily Post posed several questions to the governor on whether she would rescind the suspension and if she would do so without seeking parent input prior to making the decision.

“We support the orderly return to schools. The truancy suspension was implemented when schools were shut down. If schools are to resume face-to-face learning five days a week, we will revisit the truancy rules and ensure families have ample time to adjust, should there be any changes,” said the governor’s Communications Director Krystal Paco-San Agustin.

The day before the board took up the resolution, a parent/stakeholder community input session to address the return was canceled. GDOE officials referenced the GEB meeting and said the board would like to conclude the discussion before issuing out further information to the public. While GDOE officials noted that any changes to the timeline would be made during Tuesday’s meeting, no mention was made that the board would act on finalizing a return.

During the board meeting, the discussion of the return to five days of weekly instruction on Nov. 29 was contentious. The resolution was opposed by three GEB members.

This school year GDOE reported 864 students had not shown up to school since its start in August. GDOE was able to make contact with a majority of the students but 174, remained unaccounted for as of October 29.

On Wednesday, GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez told The Guam Daily Post that an update on student no-shows would be provided early next week.

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