The transitions won't include everyone, but thousands of public and private school students are expecting to return to traditional classrooms this week after having spent a semester with distance learning.

That includes about 7,000 Guam Department of Education students, some of whom will attend classes today. While they represent just about a quarter of the department's student population, the return to campuses for these students has dominated GDOE's agenda the last couple months.

Preparations stemmed back to last summer, when in-person classes were to launch for the school year alongside online and hard copy learning models in GDOE schools. However, significant COVID-19 cases in the last quarter of 2020 resulted in extended school closures, at the discretion of the governor.

Guam finally saw some relief from rocketing case tallies at the tail end of 2020, and GDOE and other education institutions once again prepared to receive students in their classrooms. The governor, at the end of December, conditionally authorized schools to open by Jan. 18.

But in the time between the school closures and today, COVID-19 vaccines were approved and distributed to Guam. Access is prioritized to certain groups, front-line workers at first and those age 60 and older. Some teachers have been vaccinated because they fit into the priority age group.

While vaccinating educators in general had been an ongoing discussion, GDOE developed opening plans before the vaccines were available, and only around 34% of teachers surveyed in December said they wanted to get vaccinated. It also hadn't been clear when educators might get access to vaccines, although prior discussions indicated it could start this week.

Cef Duarosan, a Gifted and Talented Education teacher at Adacao Elementary School, said teachers should have ben afforded vaccinations before the return to in-person instruction.

"I think they should have prioritized – the first responders, yes – but I think the second batch should have been the teachers. ... Some of us were talking about it. It should have been us," Duarosan said.

He plans on getting vaccinated when available and said other teachers should too, if they're comfortable.

Regardless, Duarosan said Adacao Elementary is ready to open to students on Wednesday – the first day it will hold in-person classes.

"We're prepared, we have our plan in place. We've had training with our principal. I think we're ready," he said.

'A challenge for everyone'

Rafael Mojas isn't a GDOE teacher, but like other educators, has his concerns with meeting students again in-person. Mojas is a teacher at iLearn Academy Charter School.

"Personally, I'm still scared to do it. But since we have to do it, I'll just treat it as a challenge for everyone. But I have a positive feeling we will be able to do it as long as everyone will cooperate and do it together," Mojas said.

Like Duarosan and his fellow teachers, Mojas and his colleagues at iLearn have discussed vaccinations during their meetings.

"Having a vaccine is also an added protection for myself. ... You're still nervous, but you're still comfortable that you have this vaccine and you have an additional protection for yourself. We'll just pray that ... something is not going to happen to us," Mojas said.

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