By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Guam schools would get some leeway in completing their full compliance with sanitation policy under a new bill that backpedals on a public law that sets strict timelines for the Department of Education's cleanup process.
The department has postponed the opening of schools until Aug. 23 as facilities and maintenance teams continued working to bring schools into compliance with Rules and Regulations for School Building Sanitation as mandated by Public Law 37-4.
At public hearings, education officials reported that the sanitation issues preventing the schools’ condition of readiness include typhoon damage, infrastructure issues, and long-standing maintenance issues which must be addressed before the opening of schools.
“As policymakers, it is our responsibility to know when to take a step back and course correct actions taken by this body," according to eight senators, who are seeking to correct Public Law 37-4.
"This is one of those moments where we must take a unified approach to do what is right for the betterment of our community and still achieve the intentions of Public Law 37-4," they added.
Eight senators introduced Bill 159-37, a bipartisan measure, that would provide the education department adequate time to ensure full compliance with P.L. 37-4, which lapsed into law last month without the governor's signature.
“While we agree with the intent behind Public Law 37-4, we believe the timeline imposed by this law has severely hindered the ability of GDOE to provide an adequate education to our students,” the senators said in a joint statement.
Public Law 37-4 mandates the immediate inspection of schools and was intended to help the education department comply with the Department of Public Health and Social Services sanitation rules and regulations by the start of the upcoming school year.
But due to a combination of factors such as a lack of resources, effects of Typhoon Mawar, maintenance issues, and more, the law also effectively shuts down public schools that are not in compliance with the school inspections, forcing students to attend school via alternative methods such as online in the home-learning plan or double session.
Bill 159-37 was introduced by Sens. Frank Blas, Jr., Joanne Brown, Telo T. Taitague, Christopher M. Duenas, Jesse A. Lujan Thomas J. Fisher and Dwayne T.D. San Nicolas.
San Nicolas introduced a separate measure, Bill 158-37, which would authorize the operation of Guam public schools that are still awaiting inspections.
"A viable option to remedy this problem would be to extend the law's deadline. By extending the deadline, we can put students back into the classrooms. Let's prioritize education and immediately open our schools," they added.
In a separate press release, San Nicolas said Public Laws 37-4 and 37-26 "are unreasonable and placed unrealistic timelines on the government agencies aﬀected to get the schools in good condition upon students returning to public school campuses for the new school year."
"This is all politics. While I support the intent of the laws to ensure students attend safe schools, I made a mistake voting in support of these bills which are now laws," he added.