Mercedes Martínez Padilla: Puerto Rican Teachers demand safety for students amidst aftershocks

This statement by Mercedes Martínez Padilla, the president of the Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico, details a set of demands to guarantee staff and student safety as aftershocks continue as school is supposed to start tomorrow, January 13, across the island pending inspections of school buildings. Yet, Puerto Rico’s notoriously corrupt administration is limiting inspections to current damage and not focusing on structural integrity and their ability to withstand further aftershocks. This potentially puts students, staff, and parents at risk. Worse, the government is handing out private contracts to inspectors at $1500 a shot.

As teachers prepare to go back to work in potentially unsafe building, please make your solidarity concrete by giving to this international fundraising campaign to help FMPR defend public education in Puerto Rico.

The Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico (FMPR) calls on school communities to demand complete transparency from the Department of Education (DOE) about the condition of their schools. The DOE must immediately identify which schools are vulnerable to seismic activity and establish an emergency plan to mitigate the crisis and guarantee the safety and lives of the students, educators and all school personnel. The inspections of schools that are currently being carried out by the DOE and the government are a charade. Without proper inspections in our schools, we risk seeing a completely unnecessary and avoidable loss of life. 

According to the College of Engineers and Surveyors of Puerto Rico, about 500 schools in Puerto Rico are not safe. Even the Secretary of Education, Eligio Hernández admitted that 95% of schools are not earthquake resistant. Any attempt to hide or evade this fact in order to shortcut the inspection process is putting the lives of entire school communities at risk. 

The FMPR demands the following:

  1. The publication of the list of the 500 schools that have the “short column” defect identified by the College of Engineers and Surveyors of Puerto Rico.
  2. That Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced order inspections of school buildings that will determine whether or not school buildings are resistant to earthquakes. This would serve as a first step in the process of creating an accelerated plan to fix the construction defects and mitigate the crisis. 
  3. That the DOE put the College of Engineers and Surveyors of Puerto Rico in charge of the inspection and certification process of the school buildings. 
  4. An immediate release of the Corps of Engineers reports summarizing their 2017 inspections of schools following hurricane María. They must include which schools were flagged for repairs, and where the repairs were made or not. 
  5. That schools closed by the government be inspected so that those which can withstand earthquakes can be reopened as a part of the plan to mitigate the crisis. 
  6. Prior to the beginning of the reopening of schools, every school must have an assembly of families, students, educators and school personnel in which the emergency protocols are reviewed. These protocols must be held in an appropriate, secure location and include clear protocols for what school communities should know about and do before, during and after an earthquake. The government must give school communities alternatives in the case that a campus is not safe and must clearly communicate the emergency plan in the case that a school is determined unsafe. 
  7. That the government provide therapeutic services for teachers, students and all school personnel who feel the impact of the crisis. 
  8. That the full inspector’s report for each school be uploaded to the school portal on the DOE website.  

We believe it would be irresponsible to start the new semester before all of these demands are met. 

The authorities must understand that what we are talking about here is the lives of our students, teachers and school personnel. Any excuse to not comply with a transparent process, one that reflects the real state of the schools and seeks to protect the school community, will constitute an act of criminal negligence.

School communities must remain vigilant and be ready to mobilize in order to demand safe schools for our children. We will not let the experience of hurricane María, in which so many people suffered and died unnecessarily, happen again. 

Mercedes Martínez Padilla,

President, Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico

Translated by Monique Dols for No Borders News.

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