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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Shutdown order issued against charter school is hailed by educator groups

Puerto Rico Teachers Federation President Mercedes Martínez, left, and Alonso Ortiz Menchaca, executive director of the organization The Other Puerto Rico, which opposes the Act 22 incentives law.

By The Star Staff

Learning something new is usually a positive thing, and children in school tend to learn a multitude of things as they enter a new school year.

The recent start of classes has not been without some controversy, however, not just for the public school system but for other types of institutions as well, and charter schools are no exception. One of those schools, Paradiso College Preparatory in Río Piedras, is about to meet its end sooner rather than later.

“The school known as College was operating illegally,” Puerto Rico Teachers Federation President Mercedes Martínez said at a press conference late last week. “They are not operating with permits, as required by law, in violation of rule number 9155 of the Department of Education and against the will of the Río Piedras community, which has expressed itself relentlessly against this corporation. Charter schools are a model of privatization that puts public funds in the hands of private schools to operate schools that have been proven to discriminate against students who are at a disadvantage. They deny access to these students. Giving constitutional rank to Paradiso puts the profits of charter schools above the intent of the [island] Constitution, which is to provide an educational system that is accessible for all students in Puerto Rico.”

The Teachers Federation and the Public Education Defense Coalition celebrated the sentence, handed down in San Juan Court late last week, that ordered the shutdown of Paradiso. The order was issued by Judge Alfonso Martínez Piovanetti, right after the Municipality of San Juan and the company that runs Paradiso reached an agreement in which the company would accept that it doesn’t have valid permits and is obligated to close all operations until they go through the Location Council under the Municipal Permits Office process.

Meanwhile, designated Education (DE) Secretary Yanira Raíces Vega has been asked to place herself in favor of the public education system and immediately revoke any sort of authorization given to Paradiso and the Corporation for Development of Private School Alliances of Puerto Rico by the DE. The aforementioned teachers’ organizations are asking for an immediate response on the part of the DE to the situation, in which they say it is being shown that privatization is a breeding ground for corruption and that charter schools have detrimental effects on students.

The structure and function of charter schools introduce new agents into public and private education, the groups said, privatizing public assets and raising the probability of the mismanagement of funds and corruption within the agency. It has already been demonstrated in the mainland United States that charter schools create an environment where funds mismanagement, discrimination and negligence are common, they said, adding that now the same thing is happening in Puerto Rico.

Teachers Federation Vice President Edwin L. Morales Laboy condemned such acts of discrimination against students with functional diversity and special education students, as had been alleged at the San Juan charter school.

“Parents in Río Piedras have stated that Paradiso discriminated against students with functional diversity during the process of enrollment,” he said. “Even though their children went through the process of enrolling in the school and were offered their uniforms, they were later notified that they would not be able to begin their school year.”

Alonso Ortiz Menchaca, executive director of the organization The Other Puerto Rico, which fights against the Act 22 incentives law and its rapid spread, pointed out that “the community of Río Piedras had been fighting the fraudulent company of Act 22 beneficiary Robert Acosta and Kira Golden for five months.”

“During the summer, the 10 communities and sectors of Río Piedras were consulted by the Community Board about the company. Nine voted against it,” the attorney said. “Despite this, this invader destroyed a historic structure to make his school without building permits, advertised a charter school for which he did not have a permit granted by the Department of Education, and fraudulently misled the Municipality of San Juan by telling them that he would operate administrative offices to obtain a use permit. At each meeting we were clear that our community did not want them and that we were going to remove them. Today we have come close to that achievement.”

Paradiso College had started classes on Wednesday, Aug. 16, in its facilities on Ponce de León Avenue in Río Piedras with around 150 students. With the school closing its doors soon though, those students’ future remains uncertain, as does the future for charter schools on the island. Will the Paradiso decision be used as an example for other charter schools on the island and compel them to keep their documents and services up to date? Only time will tell, the Teachers Federation president said.

“To reinforce the claims against charter schools, we will soon be calling on teachers, mothers, fathers, guardians and citizens to demonstrate in defense of public education in our country,” Martínez said.

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