A judge has blocked the closure of at least nine schools in Puerto Rico and has recommended that other judges do the same in lawsuits pending on other school closures.
The Associated Press says the ruling may derail plans to close 265 public schools on the island in the aftermath of devastation last year from Hurricane Maria. Three other lawsuits that involve some 60 public schools across the U.S. territory are pending.
The judge's decision was celebrated by the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, which has sued over the closures.
“Justice was served,” says Aida Diaz, the association’s president. “This ruling demonstrates that ... nobody has absolute authority to make arbitrary decisions over the rights of our people.”
Opponents of the closures say they worry about a lack of transportation to new schools and the disappearance of programs for special-needs students.
The judge ruled that the island’s Department of Education did not prove the need to close six schools in the north coast city of Arecibo and another three in the central mountain town of Morovis. He also noted that a recently approved law to overhaul Puerto Rico’s education system does not give officials blanket permission to close schools.
The Department of Education says it will appeal the decision. Puerto Rico has more than 1,100 public schools that serve 319,000 students, but that number has been shrinking as families move to the U.S. mainland because of an 11-year recession and the devastation from the hurricane.
If all planned closures take place, 835 schools will remain operational.
Puerto Rican officials announced in early April that they would close 283 schools, which they later scaled back to 265 after additional reviews and meetings with parents and teachers.
The government has noted that enrollment already has dropped by more than 38,700 students since last May and that nearly half of the schools are using only 60 percent of their capacity.