USACE says Puerto Rico Education Dept. responsible for opening schools
SAN JUAN – Engineer José Sánchez, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), said Thursday that it is the responsibility of the Puerto Rico Department of Education to decide whether to open the island’s 1,113 public schools while the federal entity assesses structural damages.
This way, the USACE distances itself from the public controversy that exists between several school communities that demand the opening of their schools to achieve normality at a time when the island is recovering from the disastrous Hurricane Maria, which hit a month and a half ago.
USACE also leaves the decision in Education Secretary Julia Keleher’s hands. Keleher has condemned the corps, alleging delays in its assessment of the schools. On Wednesday she said she would allow four residential schools to open despite having yet to receive a USACE recommendation.
“I can say the decision of opening or closing a school is not USACE’s. That pertains to the Eduaction Department,” Sánchez said at a press conference in La Fortaleza alongside the secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy, Ramón Rosario, and the executive director of the Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Ricardo Ramos.
Although Sánchez does not belong to the USACE team inspecting the schools, but rather to it energy team, he said he believed the corps only had the structure of some 300 schools left to evaluate. “I’m not aware,” he warned.
Rosario, meanwhile, said it is up to the Education secretary to “give the full account” and recalled that Sánchez “is not the person in charge of this work group.”
The Public Affairs Secretary did support the work by USACE, stating that if the agency were to say, “That [particular] school is unsuitable [for opening],” it would be a “fairly objective decision.”
Only 122 schools of the more than 1,000 are open 43 days after Hurricane Maria, leading to protests in schools, as well as one in front of the Capitol Thursday morning to request the start of classes as soon as possible.