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Teachers unions and outraged citizens in Puerto Rico are vowing to fight the government’s newly-announced plan to close nearly a third of its public schools.
Puerto Rico’s Education Department said Thursday that 283 schools would close by the start of the new school year, leaving open just 828.
“I don’t even know where the schools they’re being located to are,” said Haydee Del Valle, a parent of a 12-year-old who attends one of the schools slated for closure. “I don’t know if they’re too far away from us or if the school bus they take now will be able to take them there,” she told NBC News. “This makes me sad because this is a great school.”
“We know it’s a difficult and painful process,” said Education Secretary Julia Keleher, a charter school proponent. She added, “Our children deserve the best education that we are capable of giving them taking into account Puerto Rico’s fiscal reality.”
The announcement of which schools would be closed follows Gov. Ricardo Rossello signing into law controversial education “reform” legislation that will include charter schools at 10 percent of the island’s schools and private school vouchers for 3 percent of its students. It also comes on the heels of Jose Carrion, the chair man of the unelected board overseeing the debt-burdened island’s finances, declaring, “Broad and deep reforms are vital to Puerto Rico’s future.”
The Puerto Rico Teachers Association (Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico) immediately denounced the announcement.
Aida Diaz, president of the union, said, “The harm that the education secretary is causing children and their parents is immeasurable.”
“No one in their right mind acts the way she’s acting,” Diaz continued, referring to Keleher. “This unjustified school closure responds to her exclusive work forwarding an agenda in favor of private companies that she will enrich by turning over our children’s public education funds to them.”
“We are on the side of all the school communities, and together we’ll go to battle to avoid these discriminatory and injust school closures,” Diaz said.
Another treachers group, La Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), for its part, called the closures “an assault on public education.”
Education historian Lauren Lefty recently argued that Puerto Rico’s public school system has been a key target of the government’s austerity measures since the “vulture fund-fueled debt crisis” began. The island, of course, is also still reeling from damage caused by Hurricane Maria which include, among other things, severe damage and the extended closure of many of the island’s schools.