Dialynette-González-Teacher Dialynette González, with her son Caleb, daughter Caleanys, and husband Iván Marrero.
Image via Mivette Vega

Dialynette González, a teacher and mother of two, does not feel safe returning to the classroom or leaving her children in the care of others during the pandemic.

SAN JUAN — As an elementary school teacher, Dialynette González knows that it is virtually impossible to keep a safe distance between students, and between students and teachers in a classroom.

González is a special-education teacher in the autism program of Puerto Rico’s Department of Education (DE). She is also the mother of Caleb, a 7-year-old boy who will begin second grade this year, and Caleanys, a 3-month-old baby girl.

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According to the DE plan, teachers will begin remote training on August 3 for the new digital platform to be used in the coming school year. The training will conclude on August 14.

Classes will begin on August 17. Teachers will give classes online from their school classrooms while students attend the lessons virtually. 

The DE plan is for students to return to school in person by September 17, if the pandemic numbers allow for it. 

González is concerned about the upcoming school year because she feels insecure about the DE’s safety measures during the pandemic.

The special ed teacher would prefer to teach her online classes from home instead of from the school classroom, as her son will be studying remotely, and she doesn’t feel safe dropping her baby off at a daycare center. 

“I’ll need to see if Caleb’s grandmother will take care of him while I’m broadcasting lessons from the school…she will need to know how to study online with him. The other person who could help me is my mom, but she lives in Florida,” González told The Americano.

Taking Caleanys to a daycare is also difficult for the schoolteacher because she is a nursing mom. She needs to make sure that the center knows how to properly and safely handle breast milk.

“I’m not sure that other people are protecting themselves like we are. My husband tells me to remain a year at home while things normalize a bit. But I’m still thinking about it,” she said.

Fear in the Classroom

As a teacher, González foresees a lot of difficulties, especially for her autistic students. She explained that routine is very important for children with this condition, because it gives them security and structure. She also recognizes the importance for these students to be physically present with her, but fears the risks that the pandemic poses for everyone.

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“It will be very difficult for my students not to have that physical closeness, as well as to follow safety measures, like wearing a mask. When we do outdoor activities, I always asked parents to bring caps to protect the children from the sun, and the kids would insist on not wearing them,” the teacher explained.

González is also concerned that there might not be enough maintenance employees or disinfecting supplies at the school facilities. 

“The Department said it will provide supplies, but we haven’t received anything to disinfect classrooms yet. We are supposed to disinfect everything daily,” González said.

Once classes resume in person in September, one of the options considered by DE is to divide classrooms so that there is more distancing between the students and teachers. 

“But I thought if anyone got infected, how do I know if it was a student from morning or afternoon classes? How are we going to trace this?” González said.

Difficulties for Many

González is one of 26,000 teachers DE has hired, according to data provided by the agency for the 2019-2020 period. Their monthly salary is $2,355.

Further complicating the remote schooling situation is the fact that 60% of the mothers of public school students are single parents, and 47% of mothers are employed.

The Puerto Rico Teachers Association asked the DE to allow teachers to work remotely.  

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“The conditions are not right for sending any teacher to any school, especially when there is a COVID-19 positivity percentage at 10% and Task Force doctors are even thinking of recommending a possible lockdown for a few weeks,” said Mercedes Martínez, president of the federation.   

On Monday, teachers claimed that the DE asked them to physically show up at their respective school districts. Photos shared on social media showed professionals not social distancing.

As of today, the online teaching system does not have the bandwidth to handle the number of intended users, however the DE claims that the problem has been fixed.