Classes Are Off to a Rough Start in Puerto Rico


Image Courtesy of Mercedes Martínez Padilla

By Mivette Vega

August 19, 2020

As critical problems plague the start of the school year, the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation is demanding the resignation of the secretary of education.

SAN JUAN—The 2020-21 school year has kicked off with significant setbacks in Puerto Rico.

Late on Sunday—a few hours before the school year officially got underway—the Department of Education (DE) announced they would disable Microsoft Teams, the platform teachers were expecting to use for online classes.

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Secretary of Education Eligio Hernández said the department found safety issues within the platform that required it to be disabled. 

“The DE detected data that should not have been visible for users of two school platforms. We have therefore disabled Microsoft Teams until the DE installs additional security filters. We will take a comprehensive look at the situation,” Hernández said in a press release.

Microsoft Caribbean Education Leader Carla López told Metro that the problem with the platform was not a safety issue, but rather a mix-up during the configuration process.

“As the Department of Education clarified, the problem is not related to a security breach within Teams. The situation has to do with an internal configuration problem regarding the implementation of the system,” López said in a statement.

The glitch affected all 281,577 enrolled public school students.

On Wednesday morning DE announced the problem with Microsoft Team was fixed.

Mercedes Martínez Padilla, president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation (FMPR by its Spanish initials), is asking for Hernández to resign because of his “inability to direct the Department of Education.”

“This is an unexpected disaster. Its magnitude definitely requires the secretary’s resignation,” Martínez told The Americano

The president of the Teachers Federation claimed that the DE has delivered some 600 of the 281,577 required computers for students this school year.

“More than 200,000 students have not received their computer equipment,” she said. “Also, teachers are not paid for internet usage while offering educational services from their homes.”

The DE said on Monday that a drive-through system is in the works for delivering laptops or tablets to students.

Martínez said that DE has enough money to meet the needs of students and teachers. “The Department of Education received millions in CARES Act money. Those funds were meant precisely to take care of these needs,” she said.

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Lack of information is also a serious problem, according to Martínez, because parents still do not have clear guidance on how teaching modules provided by the DE will work during the school year.

She also emphasized that the DE has not hired enough teachers. According to Martínez, hundreds of teachers have already completed the job-application requirements and are waiting to be hired.   

As of now, 24,000 teachers are employed. That number is a considerable reduction from the 45,000 teachers the DE had in 2008.

“But this does not reflect smaller groups of students. Quite the opposite. Because of massive school closures, there is an overcrowding of students. All this is in detriment to an education of excellence to which our children are entitled,” Martínez said.

She also recommended a smaller student-teacher ratio—especially after 40,000 students were promoted conditionally to the next grade in May because of the pandemic. Currently, classrooms average around 30 pupils. 

Because of the conditional advancement of students to the next grade, Hernández said teachers would need to start the current school year by reinforcing skills affected by gaps in learning.

“We know 50% of students do not have access to the internet. They have been discriminated against. And until now, parents have not had information about the course modules… nor has the Department made printouts for them,” Martínez said.

Martínez also pointed out that most students in the southwestern region of Puerto Rico have not attended school since December 2019 because of earthquakes affecting the area.

“These schools have not been rehabilitated for students. Still, some of them opened for the primaries. How is it possible that they can be used for voting and not for teaching?” she said.

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Martínez blamed the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the pro-statehood New Progressive Party for the mismanagement of the Department of Education.

“This is all a well-orchestrated plan by which administrations from both parties, governing for decades, have aimed to dismantle public education,” Martínez said.



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