Education secretary leaves reopening of schools up to Health Dept.
By John McPhaul
Island Education Secretary Eligio Hernández Pérez on Wednesday left the reopening of schools with in-person classes in the hands of the Health Department.
“The issue of reopening will be tied to the context of handling the pandemic and positive cases,” Hernández Pérez told the press. “So, we have weekly meetings with the team of epidemiologists from the Department of Health who make internal administrative recommendations to us and it will be the Department of Health that will make the determinations on pandemic management and the Department of Education [that will make] the administrative determinations regarding it.”
Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said earlier that the department is working to see how face-to-face classes might begin in schools before the end of this year.
“We are more prepared than before, but it [the return to face-to-face classes] is always under discussion. We will not be able to always be at home,” González Feliciano said in a radio interview. “We have to be well prepared. Both public schools and private schools, and universities, we have to be prepared to start [face-to-face classes], in some way, at some point.”
“There have been advances in being able to hold face-to-face classes,” the Health chief added. “There are requests from parents, teachers, particularly from universities and particularly private schools. Obviously they [private schools] have greater resources and have also invested in infrastructure to ensure that infections can be better controlled.”
González Feliciano added that his department is “working directly with the secretary of Education for the surveillance part” to prevent coronavirus infections.
“We already have within the system names of students, and parents and teachers in order to monitor” COVID-19 cases, he said.
“There are models; we have seen states that have started face-to-face classes,” said González Feliciano, referring to places where in-person classes are held on some days of the week.
The Health secretary said the department will be presenting recommendations to Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced regarding the return to face-to-face classes in schools.
“We are taking all the determinations recommended by the Department of Health,” González Feliciano said. “However, the health of children and school communities always goes above any other consideration.”
Asked about the possibility of teachers refusing to start face-to-face classes, Hernández Pérez dismissed the premise.
“No. The teachers of the public educational system have always and historically shown an impressive level of commitment to Puerto Rico and this [situation] is no exception,” he said.
The Education chief was also asked about what specific steps the department has taken to receive students for face-to-face classes.
“The process of opening the schools is contained within the contingency plan,” he said. “The contingency plan establishes the stages and phases. It includes the materials and actions of the agency, and the materials have been acquired in accordance with that contingency plan. So, my first invitation, before I say we have bought, well, look, we have bought thermometers, there is the monitoring staff. There are going to be isolation rooms, among other things, that you can fully know.”
Hernández Pérez noted that the phases of reopening the island educational system consist of the distance education phase, followed by hybrid education and later face-to-face instruction.
He said 72 percent of students have devices needed for distance education. Those who do not have internet or electronic devices go to schools where they receive printed modules or modules that are loaded into devices such as tablets, the Education secretary said.
Hernández Pérez said he went to La Fortaleza for a meeting, but it was postponed after it was made known that González Feliciano had tested positive for COVID-19 and the governor canceled all her meetings pending a coronavirus test.