Hurricane Maria severely disrupted Puerto Rico’s public schools when it hit last September. Now, the island’s education system is poised to undergo a controversial transition.
In response to the storm, as well as to falling enrollment and the government’s long-term financial woes, the Puerto Rico Department of Education plans to close nearly 25 percent of its public schools before the 2018-19 school year begins. Under the plan, 263 schools will close and 847 schools will remain open.
Across the island, 270 schools are being tapped to take in students from those schools that are slated to close. The average driving distance between the closing and receiving schools is 2.33 miles. Most of the driving distances between students’ old and new schools would be less than five miles, but these new routes to school could still be a big change for some children and parents.
Critics Fear Disruption
Government leaders say consolidating schools is a necessary step to reorganize and improve the U.S. territory’s K-12 system, but critics—including the leaders of the island’s teachers’ unions—say the closures will drive away families and teachers, as well as upend communities.
Younger students could be hit particularly hard: Among the schools scheduled for closure, at least 85 percent include the K-5 grades. These closures are subject to a legal battle currently taking place in the island’s courts.
Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said many schools educate far fewer students than they have room for—nearly 500 schools had a utilization rate of less than 60 percent, she pointed out.
Consolidating schools will help Puerto Rico “guarantee access to books and teachers and resources in a positive, inviting learning environment,” Keleher said.
Enrollment on the island has been dropping for some time; last summer, the island shut down roughly 180 public schools.
Maya Riser-Kositsky contributed to this story.
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2018 edition of Education Week as School Closures Drawing Nearer for Puerto Rico