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Senate confirms Education Secretary, Rivera Schatz votes against

By on January 26, 2017

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico’s Senate confirmed Julia Keleher as Education secretary, with one vote against from the body’s president, Thomas Rivera Schatz, who showed concern because the designated secretary didn’t seem to be familiarized with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s Plan for Puerto Rico in its entirety.

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Juan Dalmau, and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Miguel Pereira also voted against the designation, which was confirmed with 25 votes in favor. Contrary to the voting process for other designations, this one was made with the list pass mechanism.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

In his turn to close the discussion, Rivera Schatz said it didn’t surprise him that Keleher was not familiar with the fable ‘Santa Clo va a La Cuchilla,’ by Abelardo Díaz Alfaro, which Dalmau referenced during the confirmation hearing.

“The fact that she doesn’t know what the Plan for Puerto Rico establishes, now that worries me,” the Senate president said in reference to Keleher’s request for more time to take a stance regarding education with gender-sensitive perspective, and the use of bathrooms and uniforms in public schools based on the student’s gender identity.

After the governor called Rivera Schatz to remind him that his Plan for Puerto Rico includes the elimination of education with gender perspective, Keleher said that would be her public policy, but it still wasn’t enough to convince the Senate leader about her designation.

“I have no doubt that she will honor [her word], because the governor of Puerto Rico is demanding it,” the legislator said in reference to the repeal of Circular Letter 19-2014-2015, which establishes education with a gender perspective in public schools, and amendments to Circular Letter 16-2015-2016 regarding the use of school uniforms. Keleher sent, at the Senate president’s request, a letter to the legislative organism confirming that changes are on their way.

Regarding the call, Rivera Schatz thanked the governor’s deference and assured “there is no clash” between them; “there is no problem in our delegation” in the Senate New Progressive Party (NPP) majority, so he criticized journalists who have presented it as such.

“I didn’t ask any of [the senators] there to vote one way or another, nor with this designation or any other… I ask all of them to vote with their conscience,” said Rivera Schatz, who clarified that, although he constantly receives votes in favor from the NPP delegation, he never coerces them into assuming his stances.

Meanwhile, Dalmau voted against Keleher’s confirmation, believing that voting for a person who is not from Puerto Rico sends the “wrong” message to the youth, since there are enough professionals on the island to serve the role. He added that it isn’t a xenophobic stance, but a message he sends to “a colonized people.”

On another hand, the Senate confirmed unanimously the designation of Carlos Flores Ortega as secretary of agriculture, and Jesús Vélez Vargas to coordinate the Special Communities Office. The senate is also expected to confirm Ricardo Llerandi as the Commerce & Export Co.’s executive director.

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