Puerto Rico To Close Nearly 300 Schools This Summer
Puerto Rico’s Department of Education announced on Thursday that it is going to close 283 schools this summer. This comes following a sharp drop in enrollment amid the island’s long economic slump, and of course the continued departure of families after the effects of Hurricane Maria.
Education Secretary Julia Keleher said that even though they’re closing a large amount of facilities, there will be no layoffs. Teachers and other employees are set to be reassigned to other schools, which is part of a fiscal plan that aims to save the department somewhere around $150 million.
Right now, The U.S. territory has more than 1,100 public schools that serve 319,000 students–but a large fraction of that is going to be chopped this summer.
Keleher commented on the impending closures saying, “We know it’s a difficult and painful process. Our children deserve the best education that we are capable of giving them taking into account Puerto Rico’s fiscal reality.” She also said that enrollment has dropped by more than 38,700 students since just last May, and that nearly half of the schools are using only 60 percent of their capacity.
After the closures, 828 public schools will remain operational. Keleher said she has invited mayors in the island’s 78 municipalities to propose new uses for the shuttered schools.
Aida Diaz, president of a union that represents some 30,000 teachers, said she and others would fight the closures. She said in a statement to The Associated Press, “The damage that the Secretary of Education is doing to children, youth and their parents is immeasurable.”
There’s more to worry about than just the number of schools being closed. Those who oppose the closures are worried about transportation, along with the needs of special education children; Somewhere around 30% of Puerto Rico’s students receive specialized education, which is twice the average on the U.S. mainland.
This stark drop in enrollment comes as roughly a half million people have fled Puerto Rico for the U.S. mainland in the past decade due to their long recession–an estimated 135,000 of those have been since Hurricane Maria in back in September.