Concerns Raised As Guam DOE Calls Of School Closure

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DOE will instead close school for repairs, cleaning on Friday

By Dance Aoki

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 19, 2013) – Simon Sanchez High School (SSHS) teacher Gretchen Andres was shocked to hear the Yigo school was called "safe" by Guam Department of Education (DOE) officials.

Andres yesterday shared pictures of rotting awnings, deep cracks and holes in the floor, via email.

"Is our school really safe?" she asked in the email.

Following an assessment on Saturday conducted by government agencies, DOE called off a closure of Sanchez High that would have started Nov. 25 and sent the students into double session at a neighboring middle school.

Superintendent Jon Fernandez said the agency representatives informed the department that the buildings are structurally safe.

Fernandez yesterday clarified that double session is still an option if the agencies deem it necessary.

Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas last week called the Department of Public Health and Social Services, Guam Fire Department (GFD), Guam Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Public Works. Agency leaders agreed to meet with him and revive the School Safety Task Force to plan a thorough regulatory safety inspection of Sanchez High.

[PIR editor’s note: GFD officials, over the weekend, reported there were multiple fire safety hazards at SSHS that needed to be addressed immediately. They found all the school's fire extinguishers had expired or were obstructed, and a second-floor classroom was not configured for safe evacuation.]

The agencies assessed the Yigo school Saturday, ahead of the planned inspection on Nov. 25.

The agencies will be submitting their findings to Vince Leon Guerrero, the governor's education liaison. The final report will be compiled by Friday.

The Office of the Attorney General no longer plans to inspect the facility on Nov. 25, but members of the School Safety Task Force will meet Friday at the AG's office to go over their findings from Saturday's assessment.

Rapadas sent a letter to Andres yesterday and said Saturday's assessment wasn't an inspection because it doesn't result in a letter grade, nor would it close facilities until violations are remedied.

He requested to meet Andres 9 a.m. today at his office in the ITC building to receive student, parent and faculty statements, and go over plans for the school.

Ranked lowest

Last year, a survey conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers of all public school buildings on Guam ranked Sanchez High lowest out of all the schools.

The report states the main building is in relatively poor condition because a portion of a parapet, or a barrier along the edge of the roof, has collapsed.

Andres yesterday questioned how the department can justify calling the school safe if the parapet still is broken.

"If the Army Corp of Engineers deemed that structure unsafe and since that report, no improvements have been done, how then can our school miraculously be safe?" Andres asked.

Fernandez acknowledged the broken parapet needs to be addressed and the department is planning to do so.

Some stained ceiling tiles in the school are the result of leaks from the old ducting, Fernandez said.

Estimates are being collected for the repair of ducting and renovations to the bathrooms.

A project to repair awnings over the walkways is scheduled to commence at the end of November and will take two to three weeks.

Sanchez High will close on Friday so the DOE maintenance division can replace ceiling tiles, cover exposed outlets and replace expired fire extinguishers.

"We are closing the school on Friday to allow for facilities and maintenance employees to do most of the classroom-related work," Fernandez said. "If we need additional time, then we will be able to use the weekend as well. Our goal is to address as many of the issues as possible this week."

A make-up day will be scheduled for the students at a later time.

School responsibilities

Fernandez said many of the issues at the school needed to be reported to the central office, but weren't.

"There's a responsibility at the school to make sure these problems are reported," he said.

The department recently implemented a new financial management system that makes it easier for schools to report maintenance issues, the superintendent said.

"For instance, the extinguishers -- they should have been reported and the school should have sought assistance," he said.

The department expects the school staff to check the extinguishers regularly to make sure expired units are replaced.

Temporary classrooms

Andres also sent pictures of gaping holes in the floors of the school's temporary buildings.

Fernandez said the problems with temporary structures aren't unique to Sanchez High.

"At some point, we do need to talk about what's needed to replace those temporary structures," Fernandez said. "But that's a broad, system-wide issue, and that's going to take a lot of resources to do."

The temporary buildings will need to be considered if a modernization of the campus is going to take place, Fernandez said.

Incoming resources

Sanchez High is slated to receive some money, though not immediately, from a bill introduced by Speaker Judith Won Pat, D-Inarajan.

Bill 63, which now is Public Law 32-63, appropriates $7 million for the renovation of DOE facilities every year, $3 million of which is dedicated solely to the Yigo school.

Sens. Brant McCreadie, R-Agana Heights, and Dennis Rodriguez, D-Dededo, introduced Bill 218 on Tuesday, which would help fund the construction of a new Simon Sanchez High School. The bill mirrors the lease-back mechanism used to build John F. Kennedy High School and several other schools in the past.

Rodriguez cited the results of the Army Corps of Engineers report as evidence that the school is in dire need.

If passed, the senators said they hoped to start construction on a new school next year.

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