• The San Juan Daily Star

As students return to classrooms, Education chief acknowledges deplorable state of some schools

By John McPhaul

As a new academic year began on Wednesday, Acting Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés acknowledged the deplorable conditions at some of the island’s school campuses.

“Without a doubt, we have seen how most of the school communities did take action. The result of what we have seen is that today, there are many schools ready,” Ramos Parés said in a meeting with journalists at Ángela Cordero Bernard School in Ponce’s Villa del Carmen urbanization. “There [also] are schools that are shameful, I am not going to deny it to the country and that is not what any of our children and none of our teachers deserve.”

“We are going to be taking control of that, from reality, the aspect of supervision and reviewing our processes in supervision and, on the other hand, the allocation of resources so that our schools are in optimal condition,” he added.

The day before classes started, teachers decried the state of a great number of schools.

“If only one [school] is not prepared it is unpardonable, because they had more than enough time to at least present a structured and ordered plan with the agencies that have to do with the basic maintenance [of schools],” said Puerto Rico Teachers Association President Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez. “Because replacing a toilet, changing a lock, changing out a window or fixing a filter, this can be done and can be corrected in more than two years.”

“I understand teachers who after a year and a half in virtual mode are anxious to begin the process of in-person learning and go to the first day of school and see that the school is the way they left it in March [2020] when the pandemic started,” he added. “I believe that the secretary has to reevaluate the plan that he has for addressing infrastructure maintenance at the schools.”

Asked about students who had to wait in the sun to enter the schools, Ramos Parés replied, “Nothing is written in stone. We are coming back after a year and a half.”

“Everyone has concerns about COVID, so we are being extremely strict,” the acting Education chief said. “We have seen it in this school campus we visited today how the same children gave witness. Also, the process of entering the campus was a fairly strict process, especially because we want to ensure continuity of service, but we are also going to review it. Nobody should be standing out under the sun.”

Regarding vaccinated teachers, Ramos Parés said 96 percent have completed their vaccination. However, he did not provide details on the number of students, over the age of 12, who are vaccinated.

Ramos Parés rejected complaints about sexuality issues under a planned implementation of a gender perspective curriculum in January.

“It is not so. The teacher who is saying that is [stating] a falsehood that does not exist,” he said. “We have not brought anything down to the schools at all and I want to be emphatic. If there is information about someone sharing something that at this time has not been authorized, raise the flag so that we can intervene.”

During the visit to Ángela Cordero Bernard School, the Education chief was accompanied by Ponce Mayor Luis Manuel Irizarry Pabón and several district legislators.

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