Classes resume in San Juan and Mayaguez, officials say
Many students lost homes and belongings to the hurricane
As some public schools begin to reopen more than a month after Hurricane Maria plowed across Puerto Rico, Ezequiel Torres Rivas’ relatives continue to call a high school classroom in the town of Corazal home.
“All of us and all of you are stronger than any hurricane,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told students at a San Juan elementary school. “With you, we will build a new Puerto Rico.”
Classes began in regions on opposite ends of the island, in San Juan and Mayaguez, according to education officials.
For some of Puerto Rico’s 345,000 students, the resuming of classes is a major step. Roughly 3 million Puerto Ricans, or more than 80% of the island’s residents, have no power. About one third of households are without reliable drinking water.
Sixty schools opened in the capital and 59 in Mayaguez, officials said. Students from 24 other schools, which remain closed, attended some of the reopened schools.
Of the more than 1,100 public schools on the island, dozens were badly damaged, 190 are serving as community centers and more than 70 others are used to shelter families who lost their homes.
Rosselló stood with Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher as children planted a small tree on the grounds of the Julio Selles Solá School in San Juan as a symbol of resilience.
Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher this week said she wanted to resume classes for all as soon as possible but had to ensure the safety of students and teachers and that needed repairs were made.
“Schools are open as community centers around the island,” she said in a video posted on the education department Facebook page. “This allows families to return to work and assures our children and members of school communities have access to a warn meal.”
She said some schools in Bayamon, in the northern coastal valley, and in the southern city of Ponce are expected to reopen on October 30.
“Once we are certain that our students are safe,” she said, “we will continue to open schools.”
Keleher said the US Army Corp of Engineers has been evaluating school buildings. In addition, the education department has been consulting the teachers’ union about recovering lost classroom time as well as state education officials in the US mainland about ensuring a smooth transition for students whose families have left the island.
’They will … use the arts to heal’
In Corazal, clothes hang out to dry from the side of the local high school. Older people pass the time on small wooden chair desks. Ezequiel’s grandmother sweeps the floor of classroom 204 like she used to in her own living room.
They sleep on cots in a brightly painted classroom, where decorations still adorn the walls and a large plastic bucket surrounded by water jugs serve as the kitchen sink.
Ezequiel said he looked forward to returning to school.
“That’s where I saw all my friends, where I talked to them,” he said. “Now we don’t know when classes will start.”
Still, the possibility that the school year could be extended past June to make up for lost time did not appeal to the teenager.
“If classes don’t start, we won’t have a summer,” he said. “Summer is a blessing. We go to the beaches, to the river.”
Linh Tran and Raphael Rodriguez contributed to this report.