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GEPB votes to reprimand superintendent

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by Michele Catahay

Guam - After a marathon four-hour meeting of the Guam Education Policy Board last night, the required five votes were garnered to effectively reprimand the head of public education on Guam. But right after the vote was taken and the meeting ended, it appears one of those board members decided to change his mind.  

And at least for the time being last night's motion still stands, because in order for Joe San Agustin to formally rescind his vote, it will have to be during the next board meeting, scheduled for December 29. And while we wait for that meeting, here's what happened last night as members of the board exited from executive session at around 10pm Tuesday.  

Numerous reports have been made about bullying at F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School and other campuses on island. It was then that chairperson of the Committee on Education Speaker Judi Won Pat scheduled a couple of oversight hearings to address the problem. While Superintendent Dr. Nerissa Bretania Underwood had taken steps to address issues at FBLG by removing principal Ulric Mark and assistant principal Milaflor Quitugua, the education board still felt it was necessary to take action and intervene.

After meeting behind closed doors in Hagatna last night, vice-chairperson Rosie Tainatongo made a motion to take action against the superintendent, announcing, "I know that leadership starts from the top. We're holding people below the superintendent accountable. So what is it we're going to do? We are accountable now for the superintendent. I am speaking for myself. I don't like reactive actions, reacting to everything. I want to be proactive."

The board met with the superintendent a couple of weeks ago where she was asked to answer a list of questions on what she's been doing to address the problems of bullying and violence at FBLG and other island campuses.

Last night, Dr. Bretania Underwood told the board she has been working on a plan with the education response team while the investigations continue.  "The actions taken by doe did not start on October 1. It actually went beyond that and DOE has actually taken proactive steps to equip the school administrators with the tools to ensure that Board Policy 409 was addressed," she said.

Tainatongo evidently didn't see things the same way, and she would say, "When the superintendent applied for the position, she knew what she was getting herself into. I don't like everything that I'm seeing, but we really need to move forward."

Tainatongo made the motion for the reprimand, with board member Vangie Cepeda seconding the motion. A vote was taken, with the requisite five votes causing the motion to pass. Those voting in favor were Cepeda, San Agustin, Tainatongo, chairman Ron Ayuyu, and Jose Cruz. Anita Manibusan was one of the members who didn't vote in favor of the reprimand, saying Bretania Underwood has properly addressed concerns from the board. "Maybe you put a team together that will always a team not just when something like this occurs," she said. "I know the schools are having a difficult time and the administrators are all overwhelmed. But it also, it takes the community to also be a part of that team."

In the meantime, Ayuyu says he plans on asking for an opinion from the board's legal counsel on the matter once San Agustin formally rescinds the vote later this month.

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