The Puerto Rican Teachers Federation and allied teachers’ organizations in the Broad Front in Defense of Public Education (FADEP) have called a national teachers’ strike in Puerto Rico for March 19. The strike is in response to the Puerto Rican House of Representatives passing an education reform bill this week that would introduce charter schools and private school vouchers and that would close hundreds of public schools. The government is trying to opportunistically push through this sweeping attack while Puerto Rico is still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Maria.
_Pushing back against ‘disaster capitalism’ measures _
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation (FMPR, for their initials in Spanish) has been warning for weeks that Department of Education Secretary Julia Keleher was going to use the crisis as an opportunity to try to close hundreds of Puerto Rico’s public schools. This is something that those in power have wanted to do for a long time but haven’t been able to due to resistance from teachers and communities defending their schools.
Eulalia “Laly” Centeno was interviewed Oct. 23 at the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation office in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Centeno is a teacher at the Salvador Brau Elementary School in Cayey and active with the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation. She talks about the danger of the government using the crisis of Hurricane Maria to impose massive school closings and privatize public education in Puerto Rico – as they’ve tried to do for years but have not been able to because of resistance from teachers and the community. She warns that the government is using the model that was used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when public schools were closed en masse and changed to privatized charter schools. Interview and translation into English by Brad Sigal.Fight Back!: Can you tell us who you are and what’s happening with your school?Eulalia Centeno: I’m Eulalia Centeno Ramos, better known as Laly Centeno. I’m a teacher and affiliated with the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation (FMPR). I’m an elementary school teacher at the school called Salvador Brau, which is a K-6 school. In this difficult moment that the country is living through, the school where I work is in the best possible condition because it has electricity, it has water, and it’s clean because the teachers and workers of the school did all the cleaning. We got everything ready. We organized the program to welcome back students and start the academic process. All areas are ready to start classes.
Mercedes Martinez was interviewed on Oct. 22 in San Juan, just over a month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Martinez is president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation (FMPR). The FMPR is a leading force in the struggle to defend public education and workers’ rights in Puerto Rico against attacks and attempted privatization. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, they initiated volunteer work brigades to address people's immediate dire needs, while also speaking out and mobilizing against the government's developing plan to use the hurricane as a pretext to close and privatize schools, like what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when public schools were replaced by charter schools. Interview and translation to English by Brad Sigal.Fight Back: We're here in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Let's start with who you are and what is the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation?Mercedes Martínez: I'm Mercedes Martínez Padilla, president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation. The Federation is a union of Puerto Rican teachers, education workers, social workers, advisors, librarians. Educators who struggle to defend public and liberatory education in our country, in defense of the rights of Puerto Rican teachers above all, and for accessible and quality public education for our students.
Interview with Noelanie Fuentes, vice-president of the FMPR local in Rio Grande
This is an interview done on Oct. 22 with Noelanie Fuentes, vice president of the Rio Grande Local of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation and a social studies teacher at Liberata Iraldo Middle School. Her school is one of many across Puerto Rico that is still being used as a shelter for people whose homes were destroyed in the hurricane. Here she discusses the work teachers have been doing to support families living in their school, and her perspective on reopening schools while many in Puerto Rico are still living in shelters, including shelters at schools, or have no electricity or water. Interview and translation from Spanish by Brad Sigal.Fight Back!: Let's start with who you are and what you do here.