Las deficiencias estructurales de los sistemas de enseñanza, la desigualdad social entre estudiantes y maestros, la brecha digital y la ausencia de procesos que integraran a las comunidades escolares en el diseño de los planes educativos, son dilemas no resueltos de cara al regreso a clases, sin que la amenaza de contagio por COVID-19 se haya disipado.
Twenty three percent of the buildings on the list of shelters that the Department of Housing released for the 2020 hurricane season are schools with structural damage due to the earthquakes occurred in the southern part of Puerto Rico about six months ago. Since the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) warned a week ago that, in the southern region alone, that list includes 14 schools with damages classified as “unsuitable or partially unsuitable,” the agency have not revised the document, despite the fact that the hurricane season is underway. Of the 319 shelters that the Government identified a week ago, 73 are schools damaged from the earthquakes that require repair or shutting down areas, or the damage is so severe that they must close permanently, according to engineers hired by the Department of Education (DE, in Spanish) that inspected them. In addition to the 14 schools in the south, another 59 school shelters were classified “unsuitable” (red) or “partially suitable” (yellow) are located in 64 municipalities in Puerto Rico. Hormigueros, Aguada, Rincón and Manatí would have to cast off shelters whose schools were classified red.
The testimonies of dozens of families with students in Puerto Rico’s public school system who need to be fed during the curfew established to control the spread of COVID-19 exposed by organizations that work with children and communities, have not been enough to convince the Department of Education to open school cafeterias to prepare balanced meals for carry-out. Organizations such as the Red por los Derechos de la Niñez y la Juventud en Puerto Rico and the Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE, in Spanish) have documented this population’s point of view. The INE survey, in which 2,700 families of children in the public Montessori system participated, showed that 68% are concerned about providing food for their children and 56% said they would use the school cafeteria if it were available. In addition, 4% of Montessori school teachers assistants confirmed they knew cases where a student or their family could experience food shortages due to this emergency. Rosalyn Hernández, community leader of the Playita sector in San Juan, confirmed this concern in a video were the mother of a 16-year-old and a six-month-old baby said, “the hardest part of this situation is that you run out of food and you can’t go out (because of the curfew), you can’t work.
Puerto Rico lost more than 684 public schools during the last decade due to the closure policy promoted by administrations of both main political parties and natural disasters such as Hurricane María. The closings, which spiked under the tenure of former Education Secretary Julia B. Keleher — currently facing federal charges — are coupled with the loss of those schools that will not be able to reopen due to the damage caused by the earthquakes in the southern region that took place in early 2020. Although the government has mandated a curfew to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that extends to early May, returning to classrooms will be harder for students in the municipalities included in the disaster declaration the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) effected after the earthquakes. Within the 32 municipalities under the earthquake disaster declaration, 14 qualify to receive public assistance from FEMA to repair or rebuild schools. Although the survey was limited to a “visual inspection” to identify “significant damage caused by the seismic events registered to date,” the engineers contracted by three government agencies concluded that 30 of 157 schools evaluated in these 14 towns are not apt to reopen because they “show severe structural damage.”
Furthermore, they classified 56 of those 157 schools with the yellow code because “they saw some structural damage that requires attention,” so the structure can only be partially used.