Education leaders take center stage once again before lawmakers, this time spotlighting special education within the Guam Department of Education.  

The public immediately gets a first chance to speak their mind--among them, Paula Agustin---one of the parents suing the GDOE superintendent and the Guam Education Board.

Agustin says back in October, her daughter attempted to slam her head into a concrete pole. She alleged the one-to-one aide tasked with caring for her daughter, was not properly trained to handle the situation.

Paula Agustin wants change for her students.

Today’s legislative oversight hearing with GDOE is turning its attention to the special education division. Lawmakers aim to assess any progress or shortcomings within the critical branch. 

Committee Oversight Chair on Education, Senator Chris Barnett, spoke with us ahead of the hearing. Barnett shares, 

“I've found that the more we check in on the progress of special education, and we discuss what are the issues facing the division, the more we, as lawmakers in the policy-making body for the island, can do to address those concerns and issues.”

Among those key topics up for discussion on the oversight docket– GDOE’s status of certified special education teachers. 

The issue already landed GDOE in hot water, with one parent of a GDOE student with disabilities taking legal action, as she alleged her daughter was left alone on 64 occasions, not receiving her education from a certified teacher based on her illness or other demands. 

She, alongside other parents of GDOE students with disabilities, filed a lawsuit against the department superintendent and the members of the Guam Education Board, alleging failure to provide adequate education. Barnett continues,

“As you know, we are currently being sued for violation of the adequate education act–these lawsuits were filed by the families of students with special needs. Even prior to this lawsuit and its filing of it, I held what I believe to was the first round table hearing on special education in many, many years. I think with just working with the Guam department of education, I think that’s been part of the problem–is that they have… god bless the hearts of GDOE leadership, but if you leave them alone for too long, you see what happens with that–whether it’s the state of our schools or the state of special education.”

The state of special education seemingly is not up to par.Barnett re-tells this experience of stakeholder and their child with special needs.

 “I got a video from a parent of a special needs student. And she sent me a video of her child when her child was assigned a one-to-one aide, and then she sent me a video of a day when her child wasn’t able to avail of a one-to-one aide, and the difference was night and day. When the child had one-on-one aide, the child was very  engaged in what was going on in the classroom, and in the video, when the child didn’t have the aide, the child appeared very withdrawn and kind of  isolated in that classroom.” 

It's just one of the many stories he says he gets from parents and principals alike---and why he's hoping to find solutions to address the issues plaguing the division.

The education chair added that though he understands GDOE has just done cross-leveling and that the department remains short on special education teachers, he hears the need for an increase in one-to-one aides from the school level to meet the needs of students effectively. 

Assistive technology aid to students, training in alternative communication, and sped-related services are also part of the oversight agenda.