Standing against the privatization storm

In the week before schools opened, thousands of untenured teachers were subjected to humiliation and abuse, forced to wait for hours in the heat to take a required drug test. Untenured teachers, no matter what level of experience they have, essentially have to be rehired every year. Many still have no assignment this year despite the vacant teaching positions at hundreds of schools.

First of all, Lorencita School meant for me that my daughter learned how to speak. I worked for five months to get my daughter into this school, and now they want to close it…There’s just no way that I could have ever imagined that they could close this excellent school, and that I would be in this struggle. But when something is wrong, and it affects your child…Well, here I am.

In the struggle.

Then, on June 22, after the end of the school year, a Department of Education representative came to Muñoz Rivera to tell the school director that they would not open their gates in September. There was no written announcement, no hearing, no process. To this day, the community of Dorado has not gotten any explanation for the closure of their beloved school, nor have any of their many letters or petitions been answered.

One teacher talked about the student with severe anxiety and depressive tendencies who had come by the encampment. He hugged the educators and didn’t want to let go. Afterward, the teacher told me that the student had been losing hair and sleep over the possibility that he would go to another school. Another student was vomiting from the stress of the closure.

The next day, having still not heard a single word about the closure of the school, a group of mothers went to Keleher’s office to try to get her to speak with them in person. Instead of taking time with the families and children who came out in the August heat, the Secretary of Education barely gave them a glance as she breezed by into her air-conditioned office, protected by guards.

During the year since María hit Puerto Rico, and in fact for years before, the FMPR has been involved in struggle after struggle to stop closures and make schools into a site of resistance to the privatizers. In the days after the hurricane hit, the union was already in touch with educators in New Orleans to learn about how the disaster capitalists would exploit Puerto Rico’s tragedy.

The larger and better-funded Associación de Maestros, which is the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has done very little to oppose privatization of the public school system. This won’t come as a surprise to U.S.-based teachers who have seen the AFT sitting at the table with education privatizers for years — and with little to show for it, but worse working conditions and crumbling schools.

On August 15, educators, with the support of their communities, will strike for dignity and respect, and to keep education in Puerto Rico public. They will strike to demand that the more than $500 million in federal dollars promised for education in Puerto Rico be used to build the schools that children deserve, not overblown administrators’ salaries and FEMA trailers.

They will demand that they receive the salary increase promised by Roselló, and that unassigned teachers be reinstated. They will demand that the department honor seniority rights when making job placements. They will demand the rollback of school closures and small class sizes, with a maximum ratio of 20 students for every teacher. And they will demand an end to the charterization of the school system and the removal of Keleher as Secretary of Education.