• The Star Staff

Education chief offers first details about return to in-person classes

By The Star Staff

The island government is not turning back on returning to in-person classes.

Education Secretary-designate Elba Aponte Santos announced on Monday the first details on the reopening of face-to-face classes in some schools, the names of which have not yet been disclosed.

“The vast majority concur that it is time for our students, children and young people, to be able to have contact with their teachers and classmates and that they have space and tools to develop their social, emotional and academic performance,” Aponte Santos said in a recorded message.

She said students will be divided into two groups, A and B, and will attend in person two days a week. The rest of the week they will remain in virtual class instruction.

Aponte Santos said it is being suggested that students finish their in-person school day at between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., and that classes be limited to groups of eight to 12 students.

Lunches will be to go, collected and consumed outside of school. The school cafeterias will not be open for food consumption.

Meanwhile, the interdisciplinary student support team will be made up of counselors, social workers, psychologists and school nurses. Aponte Santos said the recruitment of professionals for those positions continues.

She said the schools will have disinfection supplies and masks. The nurses will be in charge of screening, they will observe that the protocols and contingency plans are being carried out, and they will act as liaisons with the Health Department.

The initial grades returning to in-person classes will be kindergarten through 3rd grade, the special education program and 12th grade.

Parents or guardians will not be able to enter the school and may request appointments in case they have any concerns.

The secretary-designate also said the vaccination process is continuing in the Education Department and in private schools. As of last Thursday, 24,347 employees had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Aponte Santos said that soon she will detail which schools will be reopening for in-person classes in March.

The Puerto Rico Teachers Association and its local union, through its president, Grichelle Toledo, rejected the plan to reopen schools.

“She [Aponte Santos] presented the country with a plan that was a plan and now it is a guide,” Toledo said Monday in a video. “We demanded several weeks ago to be part of that plan to reopen schools. … Then we were going to be summoned to work on that plan; there was a second meeting to which she herself summoned us and left us waiting. Today she insists that the unions are in favor [of the reopening] and today we tell the designated secretary that this is not true.”

“The secretary has lied to the country,” Toledo said. “She has mentioned more than 24,000 vaccinated employees, but she does not say how many of those 24,000 are teachers.”