Education chief: Classes to start as planned despite uncertainties
By John McPhaul
The return to classrooms at island public schools remains scheduled for Aug. 16, even with the rebound in COVID-19 cases reaching 10 percent positivity and despite the fact that the Puerto Rico Engineers and Land Surveyors Association (CIAPR by its Spanish initials) warned that many school structures are not suitable for receiving students.
In an interview with Julio Rivera Saniel on Radio Isla 1320, acting Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés said the determination is backed up by the reports of engineering firms that were hired to inspect the schools after the earthquake and aftershocks that the island experienced early last year.
“Obviously, we do have the short column issue that we are going to be repairing,” Ramos Parés said.
The repair work is to be carried out this year, and the acting secretary noted that the Infrastructure Financing Authority (AFI by its Spanish initials) granted a term of some 10 months to complete the repairs.
“There is a request from the communities to return [to classes],” he said. “There is a safety issue and we are going to be vigilant about everything that may be happening.”
Acknowledging the concern that the warning from the CIAPR may cause among parents, Ramos Parés encouraged them to prepare.
“We are talking about preparation, because with the structures no one can be sure what is going to happen and what the reaction is going to be,” he said. “We do have the image of Agripina Seda [school] in Guánica, a structure that collapsed a day after that big earthquake in January .”
In recent days, CIAPR President Juan Alicea Flores warned that the work described in the AFI auctions to repair public schools will not solve the problem of schools’ seismic vulnerability and will only work as a palliative in many cases. He warned that if the overall condition of the structure of each school is not fully understood, the actions to be taken to reinforce them and their costs cannot be determined.
Faced with the management of COVID-19 in schools, the acting Education secretary said the protocols are still defined and that no changes have been made despite the rebound in positive cases. He also did not rule out the possibility that at some point there will be changes in the protocols.
“We have seen and we have remained in contact, not only with what is happening in Puerto Rico, but with what is happening in the United States,” Ramos Parés said. “We have seen that the key to stopping infections is not only distancing, but [also] other measures such as the use of a mask, hygiene and the rapid response that we can make in detecting and reacting to a suspected case.”