An educational crisis continues on the island of Puerto Rico while earthquakes continue to rattle the United States possession. Puerto Rico opened only 20% of its public schools this week following a strong earthquake that delayed the start of classes by nearly three weeks as the island remains in fear of ongoing earthquakes. Only 177 schools were certified to open after engineers inspected them for damage caused by the magnitude-6.4 earthquake that killed one person and damaged hundreds of homes on January 7. This is in addition to a large number of schools that have shut their doors since Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.
While officials are trying to inspect and open more schools, earthquakes continue to rattle the island. Yesterday a 4.6 earthquake struck 47 miles northwest of San Antonio amidst a new swarm area that’s formed in recent days. Meanwhile, aftershocks continue to rock the south coast, with a a 2.6, two 3.1’s, and a 3.5 hitting at lunchtime today. There have been 2,288 magnitude 1.5 or greater earthquakes in the last 30 days, 287 in the last 7 days , and 12 in just the last 24 hours, keeping people on edge there.
Families have fled the island since Hurricane Maria impacted the region as a Category 5 hurricane. Public school student enrollment decreased 44% between 2006 and 2018. Private school enrollment decreased at a similar rate over this same time period. A report authored by Centro Director Edwin Melendez and Centro data researchers Jennifer Hinojosa and Kathya Severino Pietri called, “Population Loss and School Closures in Puerto Rico”, illustrates that the loss of students has disproportionately impacted rural communities. Based on the latest data, 1/4 of Puerto Rico public schools closed due to the declining population, leaving only 856 operational for the 2018-2019 school year. The report shows that a majority of school closures have taken place in rural areas (65% versus 35%). At the end of the 2019 school year, there were roughly 300,000 students enrolled in public schools and about 100,000 in private schools.
The latest earthquakes have only made matters worse. Engineers have inspected 561 of the island’s 856 public schools, finding at least 50 too unsafe to reopen, leaving some 240,000 students out of school for now. According to Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure Financing Authority, inspectors must close and re-inspect schools whenever an earthquake rated 5.0 or greater strikes the area.
Parents have expressed concern that while the inspections declare whether or not the schools are safe from past/current earthquakes, they do nothing to discuss fears of what future earthquakes may do to them or the areas that surround them. With most schools closed and parents terrified of losing their children, even less children are getting any education.