Saipan schools amend policy


Guampdn.com
Written by Brett Kelman

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In the wake of the disappearance of two young girls, the Saipan public school system has rewritten an attendance policy to close a gap, and the Guam Department of Education will consider a similar change.

Last week, the Saipan public school system changed a policy so schools will now contact the parents of students every time they have an unexcused absence to ensure that the children are accounted for.

Garapan Elementary Principal Yvonne Pangelinan and Kagman Elementary Principal Ignacia Demapan confirmed the policy shift, explaining that schools wouldn’t previously call parents until students were absent several days in a row.

Pangelinan said the policy change occurred because of the disappearance of Faloma and Maleina Luhk, ages 10 and 9, who vanished three weeks ago on their way to Kagman Elementary School.

“It was addressing the situation and concern by notifying the parents,” Pangelinan said. “It was a response to (the disappearance), but it wasn’t an emergency knee-jerk reaction.”

The attendance policy is significant because the girls were last seen at an As Teo bus stop around 6:10 a.m., but no one realized they were missing until they didn’t come home from school at about 2:45 p.m.

The girls’ grandparents thought the sisters were at school and the school thought they were just absent, but communication could have revealed that no one knew where they were.

Some Guam schools make attendance calls about 8 a.m. Therefore, if that policy had been applied in Saipan three weeks ago, the sisters’ grandparents could have been aware that they were missing more than 6 hours earlier.

When asked last week if the Saipan school system was considering changing its attendance call policy, Education Commissioner Rita Sablan wrote in an email that the school system had a two-day policy. She didn’t answer if the school system was considering a policy shift, but the principals later confirmed the shift had occurred.

Pangelinan pointed out that Garapan Elementary School had often contacted parents after a child’s first unexcused absence in the past, despite the fact that no policy required such an effort.

Local schools

Some Guam schools already use a single-absence call policy, but all Guam public schools should start, said Superintendent Nerissa Bretania Underwood.

Underwood said she would bring up this proposed change at the next Guam Education Board meeting. A new board policy would most likely be necessary, she said.

Underwood said the single-day call policy would both prevent truancy, while offering a safety system in the case of abductions or lost children.

A policy shift was especially necessary, “in light of (DOE’s) goal to keep students in school and prevent them from dropping out,” Underwood said.

Currently, about 10 local public schools should already be using this single-absence call policy as part of their Success For All curriculum, which attempts to maximize attendance so students don’t fall behind in their lessons.

The calls double as a safety check, and they are very effective, said Richard Guzman, SFA coordinator for C.L. Taitano Elementary.

Most often the attendance calls reveal that a parent is fully aware their child isn’t in school, but sometimes these calls could uncover truancy or — in a worst-case scenario — a missing child, Guzman said.

“What we want to make sure we know is and account for is the students’ whereabouts at all times,” Guzman said. “This keeps them on track and protects their safety as well.”

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