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Students in the public education system and their families need to know, as detailed as possible, the plan developed by the Department of Education to efficiently and safely begin the school year amid the COVID-19 emergency.

It is unfair that these students, already behind due to a semester of seismic activity and the pandemic, are now going through more uncertainty about their right to receive a safe and quality education. Parents need to know in advance how to prepare and make the necessary arrangements.

The government anticipated the preliminary date to begin the school year is August 17, with a possible combination of online and face-to-face classes. The government's Medical Task Force has allegedly recommended focusing priority on online classes since cases keep increasing, which forced this week to close some economic and recreational activities. Precisely, the scientific data provided Thursday by health experts project that, if the trend continues, Puerto Rico could surpass 5,000 confirmed cases by mid-August.

Among the options considered in terms of face-to-face classes was the possibility of gathering smaller groups and alternate schedules. On Thursday, they said this modality could apply to special education and Montessori students. In-person teaching is essential for socialization skills, but its implementation amid the pandemic must include considering at in which levels students are better prepared to follow recommendations such as ensuring physical distancing, protection, and hygiene measures. First and foremost, the health and safety of our children in this situation must be the most important thing.

It is urgent that the Department of Education, based on scientific data and recommendations by public health and education experts, shares the plan so that no student is left without access to education. The Department must also detail what specific measures will be taken to prevent contagion.

investigación periodística de El Nuevo Día reveló que menos del 20% de las computadoras para los alumnos sería entregado antes de que empiece el año escolar.

The final decision should take into account particularities such as Internet connectivity and student access to technology. According to the Department, they have already distributed almost 10 percent of the 30,000 computers for teachers. However, it is not clear when this will happen for about 280,000 students enrolled. An investigation by El Nuevo Día revealed that less than 20 percent of the computers for students would be delivered before the school year begins.

On the other hand, despite evidence and recommendations published this week, the government said that before announcing its decision they will wait for the results of consultations and scientific research on contagion, to determine the best measures for students´ safety. However, epidemiology experts have warned that this indicator alone cannot be the only determining factor in deciding on school measures. They suggest that, even when children are not a high-risk group, exposure to closed spaces for prolonged periods increases the potential for infection and the eventual spread of the virus to their families and community.

Besides, although in the early stages of the pandemic children were considered to be less affected by the new strain of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Pediatric Multisystemic Inflammatory Syndrome, which causes inflammation in multiple organs. The causes of the condition are not yet clear, but children who have developed it are known to have tested positive for COVID-19 or had contact with someone who was infected. No children on the island have been diagnosed with the syndrome to date. Surveillance systems must remain on alert to detect it in time should such an event occur.

The Department of Education must keep communication channels open with school communities and parents to clarify doubts and legitimate concerns about pandemic prevention measures.