Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican engineers ask if school buildings safe as earthquakes continue

Even as President as President Trump demands that disaster relief workers earn less than $15 an hour in exchange for federal aid, new earthquakes are rattling Puerto Rico by the day. Tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the streets, afraid to spend the night in their homes for fear of walls collapsing in new tremors. Meanwhile, schools are set to open and the government is trying to rush students, staff, and parents back into potentially unsafe buildings, putting their lives at risk. But the press release below shows how educators are putting up a fight to demand safe schools. Please continue to lend your financial solidarity to the Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico as the union provides emergency aid for the community by donating today.

Engineers confirm the concerns of Department of Education unions and organizations.

A variety of trade unions and organizations representing the interests of workers and students in the Department of Education (DOE) met Tuesday with representatives of the College of Engineers and Surveyors. In this meeting, the engineers confirmed the organizations’ fears: That the inspections that the DOE are currently conducting in schools do not determine whether or not buildings are built to sustain earthquakes. The inspections as they are currently being ordered by the DOE are walk-throughts designed to scan for visible damage and do not identify potential structural risks in the case of future earthquakes. 

A wide range of individuals and organizations participated: Mercedes Martínez Padilla and Miguel Rivera of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico; Liza Fournier Córdoba and Emilio Nieves of ÚNETE; Karen De León, of the Sindicato Puertorriqueño de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras; Domingo Madera of Educadores Puertorriqueños en Acción; Wilson Torres of Educamos; Nelly Ayala León and Wilkin Del Valle of the Asociación de Empleados de Comedores Escolares and Carmen Warren of the Comité Timón de Educación Especial. Finally, Juan F. Alicea Flores, the president of the College of Engineers and Surveyors and Engineer Manuel Vélez represented the College.

“The inspections that we are asking for will take longer but they are designed to save the lives of students, educators and staff. These inspections will identify design flaws in our school buildings which will allow us to take necessary action to fix our schools.” explained Mercedes Martínez Padilla.

“Throughout the 2000’s the DOE renovated a number of schools to the tune of $1billion. It is critical that they identify which were repaired as well as announce any new findings in light of the recent earthquakes. We also need to know which schools have not been repaired so that we can go ahead and make immediate plans to correct their design flaws.” said Liza Fournier Córdoba.

“It is critical that we know the state of the schools that were closed in previous years so that we can reopen and resume services for our students. We demand safe schools for all members of our school communities.” added Karen De León.

Domingo Madera indicated that the group would be bringing a petition to the presidents of the legislative bodies which would request “a rigorous inspection process, transparent and clear communication to families, as well as the active inclusion of families, students and staff in the planning and dissemination of information regarding earthquake-related protocols in schools.” 

“The gas lines in the school cafeterias need to be carefully inspected in order to avoid any problems which could lead to a gas leak or an explosion.”  cautioned Nelly Ayala León.

“We demand that the College of Engineers and Surveyors be included in the inspections of the schools in order to determine if they are earthquake resistant. These professionals are the experts in their field, who bring a level of trust to any determinations made, and must be a part of this process.” stressed Migdalia Santiago.

Carmen Warren concluded by indicating that the group is requesting a meeting with the presidents of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Secretary of Education Eligio Hernández as well as Engineer Carlos Pesquera, advisor to the governor. This meeting should be held before the beginning of the new semester.

Translated by Monique Dols.

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