Hagåtña, Guam – Although Senator Barnett has called for the issuance of variances to allow schools to pass health inspections, it is his law that prevents these variances from being issued. Governor Lou Leon Guerrero wrote to Senator Barnett today to explain what his Public Law 37-4 does to the Guam Department of Education (GDOE).
The legislation Sen. Barnett authored requires GDOE’s immediate compliance with Public Health’s school sanitation regulations. Sen. Barnett’s bill, which became law, limits the circumstances in which DPHSS may grant variances to public schools. Specifically, P.L. 37-4 provides that DPHSS shall not issue a variance to a GDOE school if failure to comply with the regulations will result in the suspension of the school’s sanitary permit. In other words, a variance can NOT be given to a school if it means that variance will allow the school to pass inspection.
In her letter to Sen. Barnett, Governor Leon Guerrero reminded him that officials with both GDOE and DPHSS warned him that passing P.L. 37-4 would force the closure of schools and prevent schools from being able to open on time for the new school year. During the March 9, 2023, public hearing for P.L. 37-4, then-Acting Superintendent Judith Won Pat testified that GDOE would not be able to meet the deadline to bring its schools into compliance, stating:
“Introducing legislation that supports an untested timeline with the threat of school closures will not move things along faster. Our recommendation is to keep the timeline stipulated by the original law for June 2024… Senators, we agree with you that we need to provide a safe learning environment for our students. This bill in its current form though will force GDOE to close schools and cause the return of virtual learning. Five months is not a realistic timeline that all schools are going to be able to meet.”
Public Law 37-4 paralyzes our schools, rendering them unable to open for the upcoming school year. Instead of accepting responsibility for his impulsive actions, Sen. Barnett is trying to deflect blame for his flawed legislation to the agencies trying hard to meet the impossible task he and the legislature imposed on them.
Nevertheless, Gov. Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio will continue to do all they can to help divert the resources of the executive branch to GDOE. However, as the oversight chair of education, Sen. Barnett has unique authority and responsibility to help our schools. Legislatively created problems require legislative solutions. The Administration looks forward to hearing how Sen. Barnett intends to fix the problem he created.