The COVID-19 pandemic had as much of an effect on education as it did the economy. Public and private schools closed shortly after the first few positive cases on Guam were identified, and interscholastic sports were also placed on hold. This introduced most parents and students to remote learning, a concept they would have to grow accustomed to as part of the new normal.
Fewer cases leading up to the new school year gave hope that schools could return to face-to-face instruction, albeit at limited capacity, with social distancing and other safety parameters in tow. However, spikes in positive cases again led to school closures in August as the governor re-implemented stricter precautions for the island.
Public school closures have implications beyond the classroom, as these schools provide a number of services, from counseling to daily meals, for the majority of island students.
The Guam Department of Education managed to continue meal services and distribution through the Grab-N-Go meal program, a new initiative, and The Emergency Food Assistance Program, an ongoing federal program.
GDOE planned on three learning models in the 2020-2021 school year - online learning, hard copy distribution and face-to-face instruction - but was not able to implement face-to-face learning due to school closures. This created a greater focus on remote learning, with the department wanting to move students toward online learning.
GDOE created a laptop distribution program, and as of this writing, is in the process of procuring internet services for students in need. Those services will also be available to charter and private school students.
But the education department had always intended to move forward with face-to-face instruction. The inability to physically attend school does adversely impact students with special needs, such as students with autism, who benefit from the structured setting that schools provide. There is also the general concern of how well students have been able to progress while learning at home, GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez said.
About 40% of GDOE students planned to attend face-to-face instruction before the school closures prevented that from taking place. While not the majority, 40% is also not an insignificant portion of public school students.
By December, however, Guam had again begun to see a decline in COVID-19 cases, leading to discussions about potentially opening schools in January.
About a third of parents surveyed by GDOE indicated they would place their children in face-to-face classes.
On Dec. 29 the governor authorized the reopening of face-to-face learning on school campuses beginning Jan. 18.