Governor declares state of emergency on schools

By John McPhaul

In anticipation of the partial and gradual opening of face-to-face classes in some public schools, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Wednesday declared in Executive Order 2021-015 a state of emergency to attend to the immediate conditioning and preparation of the schools of the island public system.

“Since I took office as governor, just a month and a half ago, I have indicated the need for our public schools to gradually and safely reopen to welcome students and offer face-to-face classes,” the governor said. “Under the circumstances, we have to return to the highest degree of normality possible. This is a well-thought-out and informed decision, taking into consideration the reopening recommendations of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Pediatric Association. To guarantee that safe opening, I have signed this executive order with the aim that the public schools are able to prepare themselves with the greatest possible agility, complying with all the legal requirements of healthy public administration.”

The executive order, under the protection of Law 20 of 2017, clearly empowers the governor to declare a state of emergency, under which the use of an expeditious process is ordered to make the necessary purchases, contract and administer the work that is necessary to prepare the schools that will be opening. Likewise, it is provided that the director of the Office of Management and Budget will ensure the responsible exercise of the aforementioned acquisitions by the executive branch agencies and may require reports and establish those budgetary controls that he deems necessary to discharge this responsibility.

The order urges the relevant agencies to use the existing agreements and contracts of the General Services Administration, and any other agency that has a hand in the work of conditioning the schools to use their power to acquire emergency services.

Pierluisi said all contracts awarded will be valid until June 30 and will be forwarded to the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board on the date they are awarded. The contracting of services and acquisition of goods that are necessary to condition the schools will be done through a process of publication of the required works on the web pages of the contracting agencies and the Department of Education with a minimum of three days from the publication so that all applicants can present their proposal and/or quote.

The governor reiterated that only those schools that comply with the health and safety protocols established by the CDC and the Department of Health will open.

“I want to make it crystal clear that the agencies are not exempted from complying with the processes to make exceptional purchases as provided in the General Services Administration Act of 2019, nor with the laws preferential to Puerto Rican industry, as well as with related federal regulations regarding hiring requirements to ensure eligibility within the corresponding reimbursement programs,” Pierluisi said. “This is a government of law and order.”

The executive order entered into force immediately.