Alleged lack of transparency in reopening of Puerto Rico’s public schools
SAN JUAN – To the rhythm of plena music under the sharp morning sun—and observed by some 10 police officers on the steps of the Puerto Rico Capitol—a group of teachers, students and parents gathered in the north wing of the building to demand the reopening of schools closed since the passage of Hurricane María a month and a half ago.
While children and teenagers enjoyed a series of workshops, the adults at the protest marched in a circle. Their signs, several made by the young people, read: “Let the schools open now!” and “Education is paying off our own debt to humanity.”
With the voices of the students reading in the background, Juan José Rodríguez, a science teacher at Inés Maria Mendoza School in San Juan’s Caimito community, indicated that his campus has undergone three inspections—the first, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, three weeks ago.
“Quite a number of schools are ready; this demand is not only from us,” Rodríguez said. “We have brought the classrooms here, we have had peaceful demonstrations to demand the opening of our schools, against the bureaucracy, so we may begin[classes again].”
Despite having been looked at three times, the Education Department has yet to inform if the school is able to resume operations, nor has it indicated whether there is “something wrong” that needs to be fixed. “We don’t have access to the reports; what else should we do?” he asked.
“We are ready,” the teacher said, addressing Education Secretary Julia Keleher, who has assured students will not lose this semester. “The school is ready, the teachers are ready, the students are ready, the government is ready.”
During the peaceful protest, Sen. Miguel Romero, of the New Progressive Party (NPP), denounced the lack of transparency and sluggishness by the Education Department to normalize the public education system 43 days after the hurricane hit, while qualifying the agency’s performance as “inadequate.”
“There has been a lack of transparency in this, and I say this as a majority senator of this government. The reasons [for the delay in reopening schools] have not been clearly explained,” the senator said. “The secretary has a responsibility to work on [resolving] this issue immediately.”
If the reopening of the island’s 1,113 public schools is delayed further, Romero said, “we are not going back to normal.” The senator invited the head of Education to consider opening schools, even partially, to counteract the “poor work” done so far.
On Oct. 30, 119 schools opened in the San Juan and Mayagüez regions. In a written statement, Keleher asked the teaching community to remain “calm and patient,” while also affirming, since September, her commitment to transform the educational system.