(MV) — Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is “strongly” encouraging the Public School System and private schools to ensure that all teachers, staff, and eligible students get the Covid-19 vaccine. 

“I also encourage  PSS and private schools to develop a contingency plan for a transition to virtual/remote learning and temporary suspension of in-person learning, in the event that a community spread of the Covid-19 virus should occur,” he said in a letter to Board of Education Andrew L. Orsini and Education Commissioner Alfred B. Ada, Ed.D.

“As you are aware, the occurrence of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus has been increasingly prevalent in our region,” Torres said. “The Delta variant is spreading rapidly across Guam with hundreds of new cases there over the course of just a few days. We have seen an upward trajectory in the number of positive Covid-19 cases by incoming passengers here in the CNMI, and this has included individuals carrying the Delta variant.”

He said his “office has received numerous calls from concerned parents inquiring as to why we have not mandated vaccinations for PSS and private school teachers and staff, and why we are holding in- person classes. I have let them know that taking such measures is outside of my authority and that PSS is reviewing the current protocols.”

Saying that the “health of our community overrides all other concerns…I respectfully request that PSS revisit and reconsider the current protocols for classes and consider mandating the vaccine for all PSS employees and eligible students,” the governor added.

“While there is much we still do not know about the Delta variant, what we do know is that vaccinated individuals are less likely to suffer the more severe health symptoms that have been associated with the Covid-19 virus,” the governor said.

“I know that this is a difficult time for our PSS, our private schools, and our students and their families. Thank you for all of the work you have done throughout this pandemic to keep our PSS employees and our students as safe as possible,” he added.

‘Aggressive’

In a statement Sunday, Education Commissioner Alfred B. Ada, Ed.D. said while the school system’s goal is to resume in-person learning at all levels, PSS has also “been aggressive with its vaccination drive, highly encouraging our 12-year-old students to get vaccinated.”

He said over the past 16 months since the Covid-19 pandemic affected the CNMI, “our Public School System, with the support of CNMI Board of Education, implemented measures aimed to protect our students, staff/personnel, parents and the entire school community. These were implemented based on the Covid-19 prevention guidelines and preventive measures put in place by the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force.”

Because of these measures, he said PSS “was able to continually provide educational opportunities to all of our elementary, middle and high school students.”

Ada said PSS “successfully implemented asynchronous learning (our students attend course at their own pace on their own schedule) and synchronous learning (students interact with the instructor/teacher and other participants in an online learning course at the same time but at a different location) last year and this recently opened school year. These were also supported by existing resources such as technology support, highly trained and qualified classroom teachers and staff, safe and clean school facilities, among other things.”

Ada said PSS “believes that we need to be a vaccinated school community. The school district continue to appeal to our parents — our strongest partners — to encourage their 12-year-old children to get vaccinated.”

He said “to support our aggressive drive to ensure the safety and well-being of our PSS family and the community as a whole, we have hired highly trained registered nurses. These RNs will regularly visit and conduct clinical work on all of our students at all of our campuses on Saipan, Tinian and Rota, keeping in mind that the health and well-being of our students remains paramount.”

Ada said PSS “will continue working with the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force to guide us in our constitutional mandate in providing our public elementary, middle, and high students, including Kindergarten, Early Head Start, Head Start, Special Education and Early Intervention students optimum educational learning opportunities during this continuing pandemic situation.”

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