Eligio Hernández. (GFR Media)

The Puerto Rico Education Department is going to have to wait until next year for a trustee to begin managing over $1,535 million in federal funds that were destined for the agency until they were frozen by the U.S. federal government, Education Secretary Eligio Hernández said yesterday.

Even so, Hernández is confident that there are several alternatives they are negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education that would allow them to make limited use of special education funds.

"We hope that all our efforts have a positive solution," Hernández said, indicating that they need $ 275 million for special education services until June 30.

Authorizing access to funds before the appointment of a trustee; that the Department of Education can receive those funds intended to areas related to direct services to students; or that it receives only the necessary funds to ensure services until the end of the school year are among the alternatives Education is discussing with the federal government.

Hernández indicated that the Request for Proposal was published Monday, so he expects to have the proposals by the end of this month or the first week of November. The selection process would start in December.

Governor Wanda Vázquez also expressed confidence that talks with the U.S. Department of Education will be successful. “We are waiting for that decision. Meanwhile, the funds are frozen,” she said.

Hernandez's remarks came after a meeting with parents of special education children who protested in front of the agency in Hato Rey about the threat of students being deprived of services.

“Every year, we have the same stress, the same confusion. As parents, we give 100 percent and the government is supposed to do its part,” said Jazmín Berrios, mother of two girls, aged five and three, both diagnosed with autism.

She said that every night she falls asleep thinking about what would happen to her daughters if she were not there for them. "The only guarantee and the only hope for my daughters to be self-sufficient are therapies and those services that they want to deny to us," Berrios added.

Reporter Gloria Ruiz collaborated on this story.

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