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Speaker holds downtown forum on bullying

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by Michele Catahay

Guam - Hoping to address issues and concerns about bullying occurring on campuses islandwide, Speaker Judi Won Pat called school administrators and Department of Education management staff downtown today. Concerned with what was brought out during recent oversight hearings on the issue, the speaker intended to get to the bottom of what the DOE is to do to ensure the bullying problems are being addressed and students are safe on campus.

Won Pat, the committee chairperson on education, says she wants to hear what's going on at the school level to combat the issue of bullying. She addressed principals this afternoon, saying, "My concern here is not only the safety of the children, but to also ensure the success of the Department of Education and maybe you might not like some of the things I have done and how I have done some things, but I really try not as much as possible, not to micromanage the department. But at this point, I was receiving requests from parents."

Such concerns started trickling in earlier this year. "It started with Southern High School and then after that, I got other concerns. And I'll tell you the names of these schools because I'm not going to deny this. I've got a lot of calls involving Agueda Johnston, GW, JFK, Astumbo Elementary School and then I kept saying these may be isolated cases," she added.

Today, the speaker met with administrators and the DOE management team. JFK principal Ken Chargualaf says it's difficult for the school to address not only bullying issues but other things due to the lack of resources and staff, noting, "I have about 2,300 students in my school. It is no longer enough to have, really on the floor, 13 school aides on the floor - and that's a good day."

Cause for concern is a student's behavior. He says in some instances, parents can't even control their kids and the student may even have problems at home.  "There are a lot of issues in today's learners," said Chargualaf. "We have rampant use of weapons, we have constant graffiti and vandalism. Rampant control of substance and alcohol abuse, not only by the students, but the parents themselves. Parents have come to my school under the influence of the intoxication of liquor to speak to me about their son's alcohol abuse.

Machanaonao Elementary School principal Robert Malay says the government needs to work together.  "We're on the same team. Your colleague said so. We are GovGuam, but it didn't feel like that. And I understand you have a responsibility and so do we, we just want to be on level ground and level term when we talk about the issues involving all of our children," he said.

Finegayan Elementary principal Evangeline Iglesias says it's important to come up w viable solutions at an early stage before the bullying becomes too difficult to handle saying the focus should be on the elementary school level. "How do we hold these parents accountable when we try to call them know that their child is fighting and bullying kids and we say, 'Well we want to refer you to i famagauonta,'. They don't want to go to the appointments. We go to CPS. They say they're backlogged," she stated

For the time being, Speaker Won Pat plans on holding another oversight hearing come January.

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