With so many questions in the air, school directors receive virus training

After a confusing morning in which DE chief asks for ‘a moment’ during an interview to appear in another

By John McPhaul

Island school directors received training on the protocol for the reopening of schools on Tuesday, announced Education Secretary-designate Elba Aponte Santos.

A group of directors took the training on Tuesday morning, while another group received it at 1 p.m., at the Pedro Rosselló González Convention Center in the Miramar neighborhood of San Juan.

In-person classes will begin next week in some schools in Puerto Rico, after a year of students taking distance courses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Education hopes to complete final preparations this week to be able to reopen some schools.

Tuesday morning was a busy and confusing one for the Education chief and the media.

During a radio interview, the secretary-designate did not give a complete answer to the question of what will be done when positive cases of COVID-19 arise in a school. Regarding the protocol should such a situation arise, Aponte Santos said that if “two cases arise in a room, then that room is closed,” and then asked the interviewer for “just a moment” during the interview with journalist Julio Rivera Saniel on the program “Pegaos en la Mañana” on Radio Isla.

After asking for a “moment,” Aponte Santos did not return to the phone interview. Her press spokeswoman, Cindy Villariaga, told the interviewer that the phone call was cut off. Moments later, Aponte Santos appeared in another phone interview on WKAQ 580 AM.

Prior to the interruption of the first interview, Aponte Santos said that “what is sought in schools is that they have the station for taking the temperature, that they have the ‘hand sanitizer’ materials, that they are registered in the [Health Department] portal, that they have done the logistics in terms of the number of students there will be per class. And that they have separated the faculty, among other matters.”

“What we did was install 236 additional thermometers, because we already had additional thermometers,” the designated Education secretary added. “This is part of the initiatives we are taking. We are following everything that is in the protocol, established by the Department of Health.”

Aponte Santos said further that “[t]oday [Tuesday] we will be providing guidance to school directors. There is a certification process that is going to take place.”

“We will be doubling down on what the custodians do so that they have more resources, particularly for the bathrooms, to be able to have a more rigorous cleaning of the bathrooms,” she said. “We are hiring additional staff. In this phase we are activating additional resources through what has always been done, a special recruitment with private companies. But we have also ensured that they have the cleaning basket. And then we have cleaning material in stock to be able to provide additional materials. We are going to be identifying more masks, to offer more masks to schools.”

Regarding masks, Aponte Santos said “[t]he provision is what the Department of Health establishes, which is the surgical one.”

“They had also have made a donation [of masks] to the schools, also made of cloth, just in case of a major incident,” she said. “But we are going to provide so that they also have surgical masks in the schools. Students going to schools must wear their surgical mask. Also the teachers.”

With regard to ventilation, the designated Education secretary said that “what we preferably want is that there to be ventilation, that we have the windows open, preferably, but categorically we say that they will not have, if the heat worsens, any air conditioning that they can receive additionally, because we have not established that categorically.”

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