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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Some schools still need repairs as students return to classrooms

A student holds up a new set of paints at Cacica Yuisa Bilingual School in the Ricky Martin Foundation’s Tau Center in Loíza. (Photo by Israel Morales Alicea)

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia reiterated on Wednesday that schools that need to be repaired and/or closed for repairs will be temporarily closed and students will be relocated without disrupting their coursework.

“Today the school year begins and the vast majority of public schools are in a position to receive our students,” the governor said in a written statement. “Work to refurbish and improve them is well underway, and we will ensure that any school that needs additional work receives it quickly.”

The governor said his administration is undertaking a comprehensive school repair program never seen before, including the repair of short columns that make schools vulnerable to earthquakes and that have been neglected for years. In some cases, work is being done in schools that receive students and in others, alternatives such as the interlocking system are being used.

“The Department of Education is taking the necessary measures so that our children and young people do not lack the bread of education,” Pierluisi said.

“I have been clear that if we detect any school that should not be open due to physical plant problems or structural defects, we will proceed to temporarily close it while the situation is corrected, looking for options so that its students continue taking their classes,” the governor continued. “At the same time, we are beginning the implementation of a new school curriculum that seeks to update and improve teaching in public schools to ensure that our students are successful now and in the future. Our people can count on my administration not resting and continuing to do the work required for us to have a public education system at the level of the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés expressed satisfaction on Wednesday with the start of classes even though many campuses have yet to undergo repairs.

“I’m not saying it’s the perfect start,” the secretary told the press. “We still have a lot to attend to, many challenges to face, but I can say that today most of the campuses have their full staff and infrastructure issues are being addressed.”

Ramos Parés visited Alejandro Tapia y Rivera School in Villa Palmera, Santurce, which has not yet been painted on the outside and has other infrastructure issues requiring attention. However, short column issues and leaks have been addressed.

Alejandro Tapia y Rivera will be interlocking with another school to serve other students whose school will not open for the time being.

“I want people to conceptualize that the academic semester ended last June 10 and more than 500 schools were operating until July 22. The work being done is not necessarily completed in 30 or 45 days, which is what we were used to,” Ramos Parés said. “Schools need much more. It is not only the issue of painting, it includes fungus removal, wall sanitation, which is cement as such, taking care of the floors and painting including primer, it is not only the brush stroke that we are used to.”

He said painting at schools serves no purpose if major issues such as leaks and humidity are not addressed.

On the issue of the implementation of the new curriculum that includes teaching with equity and respect for social diversity, Ramos Parés said the process will take the full academic year.

“Digesting the curriculum in 30 or 60 days is not the right thing to do either,” he said.

So far, six schools will start virtually and 50 campuses are interlocked. In addition, around 100 teachers are yet to be named, the majority of those, the Education secretary said, due to last-minute resignations.

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