• The Star Staff

Education chief announces list of 115 schools that may start ‘hybrid’ classes

By The Star Staff

Education Secretary-designate Elba Aponte Santos announced on Thursday the 115 island schools that will open for “hybrid” instruction starting March 1.

The Puerto Rico Department of Education (DE) is using the term “hybrid” to refer to in-person and/or virtual classes.

“I recognize that this decision may raise some doubts and questions in our community,” Aponte Santos said at a press conference. “As of today you will notice that, although there are schools ready to operate, they cannot be opened by order of the Department of Health.”

She noted that the school calendar establishes that on Monday, March 1, the opening of the school campuses will take place. From March 3 to March 5, the DE will work on the preparation and training of personnel in the areas of health. Students will begin to arrive at schools in a gradual and staggered manner, beginning Wednesday, March 10, during special hours.

The schools that will reopen must be registered in the island Department of Health’s (DS by its Spanish initials) BioPortal for the notification of possible cases of COVID-19.

“We have selected 136 schools, of which 21 are in municipalities at the red level, so only 115 will be opened,” Aponte Santos said.

“We must bear in mind that this number will change, depending on the data the DS offers.

Regional superintendents and central level personnel visited them [the schools] with the purpose of assessing the needs of their physical plant so that they had the [appropriate] conditions for compliance with COVID-19 [safety protocols],” she said. “On a daily basis, school personnel must comply with the DS protocol that begins with taking [students’] temperature on the school bus and then at the entrance to the campus.”

Parents and guardians should not take the student to school with symptoms. However, if symptoms occur at school, students will be moved to an isolation area where they will be cared for by school nurses -- health professionals who have received training and will be in constant communication with municipal epidemiologists and DS staff, the designated Health secretary said.

Likewise, Aponte Santos said the DE made a total investment of $6.6 million for the acquisition of digital thermometers, and basic supply kits with protective equipment such as masks and cleaning materials. The purpose is to disinfect classrooms, bathrooms, and common areas.

The schools will post information visibly to ensure physical distancing and avoid crowding.

Student traffic must be unidirectional, six feet of distance maintained at all times. Drinking fountains will not be in operation, and information about virus prevention and hand washing, among other health safety issues, will be visible. School lunch will continue in “grab and go” mode and it was clarified that the use of the school uniform is not required. However, students must wear appropriate clothing, per school protocol.

Aponte Santos also announced that the DE has the necessary employees in the designated schools and that the social-emotional component -- professional counselors, school psychologists, school nurses and school social workers -- will be available to help students in the adaptation process. In that area, the DE works in collaboration with the island Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) to provide emotional support to the entire school community, she said.

Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, ASSMCA administrator, said “at ASSMCA we will be strengthening communication and support ties with the Department of Education in an action plan that includes training for teachers and school personnel, as well as screening and referral of students in accordance with [their] needs.”

“At the preventive level, we will reinforce educational services through our prevention centers under the programs ‘Skills for Life,’ ‘For the Love of Your Children,’ and ‘Lesson of Hope and Leadership.’ In the latter in particular, we will promote leadership development in children with the ‘Champions’ initiative and in the youth population, called ‘Young Leaders.’ Likewise, we will attend to identification and early intervention in terms of emotional health and specialized services for minors,” Rodríguez Mateo said. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been immersed in supporting the Department of Education with multiple initiatives aimed at teachers and students. Today, we reaffirm our total commitment to continue in that same direction for the well being of all.”

As of Tuesday, school staffing was at 33,808, of which 29,631 staff members had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the process continues, the Education chief said. Eighty-eight percent of teaching and non-teaching staff had been vaccinated with the first dose, while 20 percent had gotten their second dose.

The list of schools recommended for reopening in the first phase can be accessed through Final-Escuelas-Recomendadas-Apertura-ORE-y-Alertas.pdf (noticiascyber.com).