Resolutions filed to address schools damaged by earthquakes, reform closure process

By John McPhaul

District 23 Rep. José “Cheito” Rivera Madera filed two resolutions Tuesday requesting detailed investigations from various committees of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives in order to work with urgency on conclusive reports on schools damaged by last year’s earthquakes in the island’s southern region.

The first resolution would be sent to the House Education and Security committees so that they can carry out an exhaustive investigation regarding the process of reopening, repairing or relocating the public schools under the island Education Department (DE) that are located in the southern municipalities and which suffered structural damage as a result of last year’s earthquakes.

The recently sworn-in legislator for the towns of Yauco, Guayanilla, Peñuelas and Ponce said the safe return of students and teachers to campuses is vital, “since distance education does not seem to have achieved acceptable standards both academically and emotionally.”

“We cannot lose another year without our students from the south receiving proper training,” the Popular Democratic Party legislator said. “We are already experiencing the chaos that has constituted virtual education and the reality that hundreds of students lack the necessary devices and internet access due to the ineffectiveness and improvisation of the Education Department.”

He added that, given that the designated secretary of Education was president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, it would be expected that she is aware of the situation, which also harms the teachers and the parents of the students, and that the agency should be a collaborative resource in the investigative agenda to search for solutions.

“Once the committees have the necessary information, they will be able to issue a report in a responsible manner that will serve as a working instrument to develop a short-, medium- and long-term plan regarding the return of our teachers and students to schools, including an immunization plan against COVID-19 for teachers, DE employees and students,” the legislator said.

A second resolution filed by Rivera Madera would define the pattern for addressing the educational issue of school closures. The measure requests that 12 months in advance be established as a minimum time for the central government to announce the closure of a campus.

“We are totally against the closure of schools, and those that closed, in most cases, were closed with notice of less than a month and sometimes a week, with unknown objectives, since many ended up ruined and others in the hands of those close to the New Progressive Party,” Rivera Madera said.

He said such practices must end, and if the government intends to close a school, it must announce it a year in advance and provide the alternative of public hearings with the school community, parents and students to hear the complaints and their possible alternatives.

“You cannot close a school in Barinas (Yauco), Las Magas (Guayanilla), Tallaboa Alta (Peñuelas) or El Tuque in Ponce, with a ‘sketch’ and a bureaucratic determination from Hato Rey, where they don’t know how -- without GPS -- to reach them,” Rivera Madera said.

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