San Juan – The president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association (AMPR), Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez and the general secretary of the AMPR, Grichelle Toledo Correa demanded on Tuesday Governor Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and the designated Secretary of Education, Elba Lissette Aponte Santos that guarantee a “safe and structured” return to classes, if not, that virtual classes continue.
“Our claim is that the government present at all levels the statistics of the personnel of the Department of Education who have been infected so far with COVID-19. If the government cannot pin down those data, it is not in a position to talk about reopening schools in March. It is not real to expect that face-to-face classes start in March because we know that under normal circumstances schools are never ready. Additionally, the vast majority of schools lack optimal infrastructure, making it difficult to return to the classroom. We recognize that the ideal is face-to-face classes, but in a normal setting, not an atypical one, and as long as we do not have health and safety guarantees we cannot talk about face-to-face classes, ”said Bonilla Sánchez at a press conference.
On the other hand, the president of the AMPR said that details about the vaccination process against COVID-19 have not been provided to teachers.
“There has been no dialogue and that is what we are demanding. I understand that they must have the exclusive representative who is the AMPR Local Sindical, with the institution to then do among themselves and work as a team because we have to see how this vaccination process is going to take place for the colleagues we are representing. We have to know what are the conditions for which these fellow teachers are going to be vaccinated, ”said Bonilla Sánchez.
For his part, Toledo Correa denounced Education, that as exclusive representatives they should be an active part of the elaboration of the detailed plan for the reopening of the schools and we summoned the designated secretary to make us part of the vaccination plan to the appropriate unit.
“They are talking about opening schools by municipalities according to the percentage of infections, but the reality is that a teacher can live in one town and give classes in another. That would be a matter of analysis and conclude if that at the end of the day is effective. Our recommendation is that the semester continue virtually until the level of infections drops to 3 or 5 percent throughout the island. In addition, vaccination for teachers begins in the coming weeks and will not be until a few months that Salud will be able to specify if the curve is going down. The best thing is to establish a later start date so as not to be creating instability in the teaching profession, ”said Toledo Correa.
The Secretary General of the AMPR recommended that a strategy similar to when AH1N1 occurred, that each school certified if it was ready to return to normal or not.
Bonilla Sánchez added that “it is essential that from before the start of face-to-face classes there is an effective system of identification and tracking of cases, in addition to showing a button it is enough because in some states they tried to reopen the schools and for weeks they had to close again. It is important to establish alliances with the municipalities to reopen the schools safely, because the mayors have already worked with their communities on the COVID emergency, they have their tracking systems and are much closer to the school communities, knowing their needs in advance ” .
On the other hand, the president of the AMPR reported that he submitted two motions to the court to pay the salary increases to temporary teachers since 2018. For this purpose, the lawyer Melissa López explained that “The Puerto Rico Teachers Association won two cases in favor of temporary teachers to be recognized for the 2018 increase and the 2019 increases. Despite the fact that the Fiscal Control Board had recognized the salary increase for all these teachers unilaterally, the Department of Education determined that the temporary teachers were not going to be paid. We had to file two cases because it happened in both 2018 and 2019. Both cases were won in the Court of First Instance and the Department of Education appealed ”.
“Education has to pay this money,” he said.