Every student with special needs in the United States is guaranteed a Free and Appropriate Public Education under national law.
So why has the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico stopped paying its special education teachers?
More than 100 parents, therapists, psychologist, occupational therapists, students and teachers marched on Monday to the capital in San Juan to find out.
The rally began in front of the legislature at 9 before protesters marched to the governor’s mansion at 10:30 am. Demonstrators then met with representatives of Governor Alejandro García-Padilla.
The Commonwealth government has been prioritizing payments to American private equity moguls instead of services for communities such as public schools.
“Our Children Before Vulture Capitalists,” proclaims one protestor’s sign.
Jinnette Morales agrees with the sentiment. Morales organized the protest.
“No credit line would back up this lack of payment,” says the mother of a child with Down Syndrome.
“These therapists have been working for months without pay and if Secretary of Education Rafael Román says that he has paid them, I want to hear him say that when we take him to court.”
Though the Commonwealth Department of Education hasn’t paid these professionals in up to six months, students still have been receiving services. Special education employees have been working without pay. However, that can’t continue indefinitely.
The therapists, psychologists and teachers have had enough. They simply can’t continue without an income.
So starting this week, roughly 1,200 students are without services they are guaranteed by law.
“We are talking about children’s humans rights to receive an appropriate and quality education,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – the teachers union.
“Children need these therapies to progress in their development. Therefore, we stand with the workers, parents, and students and demand action from the governor of our country.”
Protesters are demanding special education employees be paid immediately so child services can continue with as little interruption as possible.
After arriving at the governor’s mansion, activists met with the governor’s attorneys.
They were told the government will eventually pay the special education teachers, says Martinez. In the meantime, officials suggested improving billing for services. Instead of having all invoices be digitized and go through corporate channels, special education teachers can provide manual bills. This will shorten the amount of time between billing and payment.
Protesters are scheduled to meet again with government officials on Thursday to pin down an exact date when payments will begin.
Until then, many demonstrators are camping out in front of the governor’s mansion vowing not to leave until the government makes good on its fiscal responsibilities to teachers and students.
“The government needs to pay the debt with these professionals before our country’s debt,” says Martinez.
“Our children should come first.”
This monetary crisis is imported from the mainland. Legislation is being manipulated by corporate interests profiting off the chaos. Moreover, hundreds of American bankers and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.
As a result, tax revenues are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.
Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills sometime this year. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!
Of the 135 schools closed in just the last two years, Román had originally proposed shuttering 200. The remaining 65 were only kept alive because communities occupied the buildings and refused to let the government step in.
Despite Wall Street manipulation, Puerto Rican communities aren’t letting their government sell their children short. The fight goes on.
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