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From 2017 to 2020, between hurricanes and earthquakes, students have lost the equivalent of 1 school year

The PRDE’s Social Work Program identified that approximately 68,000 students are still dealing with the socio-emotional effects of the pandemic and need support to deal with emotional, mental, or behavioral issues.


In September 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico causing losses estimated at approximately $759.4 million. One month after they made landfall, 83% of the population still had no electricity, and a large part did not have water or telephone service. Eleven months later, the Island’s authorities announced that power had been restored to the entire island.[1]

The effects of Hurricane Maria on education disrupted the learning process of children and youth who began to show socio-emotional changes. The Youth Development Institute (2018) estimated that “children between the ages of 5 and 17 lost over 70 days of school, educational institution or college”, because of hurricanes Irma and María. Of these, 78.5% attended a public school (p. 16). The effects of these events on them include poor concentration, poor academic performance, and loss of interest in studying.[2]

The government once again declared a state of emergency in early 2020. On January 6, as a result of seismic activity on the south side of the island, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico, followed the next day by a stronger, 6.4-magnitude one. Hundreds of aftershocks continued for several days and weeks in the southwest region that were felt across the island. The effects of the quakes on the south side of the island were evident, with dozens of collapsed or severely damaged homes and schools. By February 14, 2020, at least 88% (756) schools were fully operating according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.[3] The municipalities of Yauco, Guánica, Guayanilla, San Germán, Ponce, Utuado, and Peñuelas were the most affected by the seismic sequence. To ensure the safety of their citizens, six of these seven municipalities relocated entire school communities (55 schools) to tents, trailers, and other public and private buildings.[4]

The seismic activity in the south is still active and U.S. Geological Survey experts have stated that there is potential for aftershocks occurring in the area for up to a decade.[5]

Even when most schools on the island are safe enough to be used as emergency shelters in case of a hurricane, their reliability in the event of an earthquake is not the same. After the January 7th event, the then secretary of education, Eligio Hernández-Pérez noted that up to 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s public schools were not up to current earthquake building codes.[6] According to Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, the island’s schools were inspected in 2019, but were not evaluated to identify vulnerabilities in case of earthquakes. Two years later, the government of Puerto Rico announced a plan to repair school infrastructure. According to El Nuevo Día, Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced that 493 schools would undergo repair works, 201 would be remodeled, and 37 would be extended.[7] At the beginning of the 2023-204 school year, the Teachers Association indicated that more than 38% of the 588 schools that need repair work to face seismic events have not started work. [8]

By mid-March of the same year, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Puerto Rico established a series of measures to contain the spread of the disease, including the closure of schools and businesses.  Schooling went from in-person to online learning. Making this possible posed a great challenge because only 68.6% of households in Puerto Rico had a computer and only 60.4% had a broadband  Internet subscription. [9] In a focus group created by Flamboyán Foundation with public school K-3 teachers, they stated that at the time, the most common tool used by families to access online classes, do homework, and meet evaluation criteria was the so-called “Obama phone,” which is a federal program that provides a cellular device with a very limited broadband connection and talk minutes. On occasion, it was the only connection tool for households with several children.[10]

At the beginning of the new school year in August 2020, only 49% of teachers had received their laptops to teach classes. [11] In addition, there was a lack of modules for distance classes. [12]

For the 2021-2022 school year, the PRDE was able to distribute laptops and tablets to 231,478 students and 22,437 teachers to support distance learning. In addition, 700 schools reopened for full-time in-person instruction, 95 on interlocking schedules (classes in the morning and the afternoon), and only 62 remained online.[13] Under the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, low-income families were able to receive a discount ranging between $50 and $75 per month towards broadband service and up to $100 to purchase an electronic device.

Furthermore, the social-emotional effects of the pandemic did not take long to appear. According to the most recent needs assessment performed by the PRDE’s Social Worker Program, approximately 68,000 students have been identified to need support by the school’s social worker in the 2021-2022 academic year, either due to an emotional, mental, or behavioral situation.[14]






[1] Center for Puerto Rican Studies. (2020, September). Enduring Disasters: Puerto Rico, Three Years After Hurricane María

[2] Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud (2018). Los efectos del Huracán María en la niñez en Puerto Rico

[3] Center for Puerto Rican Studies. (2020, September). Enduring Disasters: Puerto Rico, Three Years After Hurricane María

[4] Cortés, R. (2020, February 9). El gobierno detalla el plan para reabrir las escuelas. El Nuevo Día.

[5] Van der Elst, N.J., Hardebeck, J., Michael, A. (2020). La duración potencial de las réplicas del terremoto 2020 del suroeste de Puerto Rico.

[6] Jiménez, L. (2020, February 10). Puerto Rico’s Earthquakes Have Put Thousands of Schoolchildren at Risk. CAP.

[7] López, K. (2022, January 22). ¿Cómo arreglarán las escuelas públicas? Detallan el ambicioso plan de reconstrucción para el que se invertirán $3,000 millones. El Nuevo Día.

[8] Acevedo, I. (2023, August 11). Denuncian falta de maestros y reparaciones en las escuelas de Puerto Rico. El Vocero.

[9] United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). QuickFacts: Puerto Rico

[10] Fundación Flamboyán. (2020, August). Escuchar y aprender: Maestros de niveles primarios se expresan sobre el reinicio de clases en las escuelas públicas de Puerto Rico. [Webinar].

[11] Díaz, T, Jank, J., Mejía, M., & Rogers, F. (2020, August 6). Sin rumbo los sistemas de educación pública en el Caribe ante el coronavirus. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.

[12] López, C. (2020, September 3). Educación reconoce brutal dificultad de educación a distancia. Noticel.

[13]  Gobierno de Puerto Rico. (n.d.). Educación: Gobierno de Puerto Rico. Portal Informativo del Ciudadano. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from

[14] Departamento de Educación de Puerto Rico, (2021, April 21). Puerto Rico State Plan for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund