Hundreds of teachers, parents and students joined marches called by the Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico in San Juan and Mayagüez Aug. 15 to protest the disaster being imposed on teachers and students by the colonial overlords in Washington. Hundreds of schools have been shuttered; many schools are still damaged from Hurricane Maria; teachers’ seniority is being violated; and the first privately run charter school funded by the government has been opened. The school year began Aug. 13.
“We believe this is the worst beginning of a school year in decades,” Edwin Morales, vice president of the Teachers Federation, said at an Aug. 12 press conference. He said the Department of Education had left 1,000 teaching positions unfilled, while teachers are unemployed or still waiting to be assigned to schools. Class rooms are overcrowded and some schools are only open half a day, due to insufficient personnel.
Students and parents at the Isidro Sánchez High School in Luquillo, backed by the Teachers Federation, held a one-day strike Aug. 17, carrying signs showing all the classes that had been cancelled because of a lack of teachers.
The island’s Department of Education has shut down 254 public schools since last year, claiming this was because of a drop in enrollment of some 41,000 students — 26,674 since Hurricane Maria alone, as many workers left for the U.S., fleeing the social crisis in the wake of the storm — and a $300 million funding shortfall. The number of teachers has been cut from 31,000 in 2016 to 22,500 today.
The situation is chaotic. Schools in good condition are among those closed, while students have been sent to some that still need repairs. The colony’s education department has spent $1.6 million to put trailers outside schools damaged by Maria to serve as temporary classrooms.
“They are attacking not just the teachers and the children, but the working class,” said Mercedes Martínez, president of the Teachers Federation, at the start of the Aug. 15 march in San Juan. “It’s an attack by the wealthy class, those who control the finances of the country and are trying to leave us in misery.”