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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Education secretary-designate considering school calendar changes due to heat

Sen. Javier Aponte Dalmau

By The Star Staff

Designated Education Secretary Yanira Raíces Vega said late Monday that she is considering the possibility of amending the school calendar in the face of the heat wave that continues to beset the island.

At a public hearing in the Senate, Raíces Vega said that agency officials have considered declaring August and September as a holiday month instead of June and July. They hope in this way to minimize the effects of a late-summer heat wave on students, she said, and will consider the measure for the next academic year.

Raíces Vega’s statements came in the middle of a public hearing of the Senate Government Committee to evaluate the measures adopted by the Department of Education (DE) in response to the high temperatures that are being acutely felt in the island’s public schools, most of which lack air-conditioning systems.

As reported by the STAR on Tuesday, the designated DE secretary told the Senate panel that 32,000 fans have been acquired with an investment ranging between $1.3 million and $1.5 million, as an immediate response strategy to provide much-needed relief from the heat in public schools.

The individual cost of the fans has come under criticism from some quarters after cheaper options were found through independent research. Raíces Vega added that the fans, purchased with funds from the Emergency Program for Elementary and Secondary Schools, range from $50 to $80 each, including delivery to schools. More permanent options, including air conditioners and ceiling fans, are being sought, but these involve a significantly higher investment and logistical challenges, she said.

As reported by the STAR, it was highlighted during the hearing that the installation of air conditioners entails additional expenses for electrical and architectural adaptations, using as a reference the Hawaii model, where the investment is $30,000 per room. It is estimated that to implement those measures in all island schools would require an investment close to $1 billion.

Public Buildings Authority Executive Director Yamil Ayala Cruz stressed that such an initiative presents a monumental challenge, not only because of the availability of inventory, but also because of the fiscal impact and costs associated with installation. Currently, bids are being held to place air conditioners in 17 schools at an investment estimated at over $22 million.

For its part, the Office for Public School Improvement has allocated $40 million to repair air conditioners and address other issues related to reopening schools.

“This multi-million-dollar investment in infrastructure evaluation seems excessive, especially when students are at a disadvantage,” said Sen. Javier Aponte Dalmau, urging a more careful review of spending priorities. “We should consider serving the most critically ill schools first.”

The issue continues to be debated in the Senate, with proposals to redistribute funds and ensure schools are prepared to deal with high temperatures effectively and sustainably in the future.

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