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In Puerto Rico, school closings hit families, communities hard



The school system has lost 38,762 students since May of 2017. In a statement, Puerto Rico’s Department of Education said the closings will ensure the government can provide students with the resources they need after the drop in enrollments.

Many families have been fleeing the island for years as Puerto Rico’s economy has worsened. The exodus grew after Hurricane Maria hit the island last September and as families gave up on waiting for the return of electricity, water and other infrastructure.

According to Puerto Rico’s Education Department, half of the island’s schools are at 60 percent capacity.

Some schools already had been shuttered after losing water and electricity that did not return quickly enough after the storm. Some were only open half the day, using the daylight to conduct classes and relying on water that was trucked in or intermittently flowing.

At the same time, Puerto Rico has been locked in a struggle over education as Gov. Ricardo Rosselló proposed reforms and brought in Education Secretary Julia Keleher, who has pushed to bring charter schools and reform the system since her arrival to the island.

That proposal is part of Rossello’s proposed education overhaul that has put him at odds with the teachers’ union, which was highly critical of the school closures on Friday.

‘A massacre,’ says teachers group

“This is a massacre against Puerto Rico’s education,” said Aida Díaz, president of Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Teachers Association), which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers already have been protesting the island’s education reforms and the school closings added to the discord.

“I know we have been losing population but many of them are coming back and we didn’t even get a chance to pre-enroll for August,” Díaz said.

There has long been need for school reform in Puerto Rico. Most middle-income and upper income residents enroll their children in private or parochial schools; the island’s public schools have largely served lower income children.

But the economic woes have forced some parents to stop paying private school tuition, said Ana María Blanco García, executive director of the Instituto Nueva Escuela, a non-profit that has put Montessori education in 44 public schools in communities throughout the island.

García said closing the schools hits a very vulnerable population. The Puerto Rico public school system still is very rural and many of the schools are small, serving poorer communities that are some distance from urban centers.

Following the hurricane, many schools became community centers and aid distribution sites and shelters. In some communities, parents and neighbors cleaned schools of debris and did repairs, even helping provide food for meals so children could return to classes.


One of the schools on the list for closure is the Inocencio Cintrón Zayas school in the community of Barrancas, in the town of Barranquitas. The school, located by a river, was flooded during the hurricane.

“They want to take the kids to another school … to bus them though a very hard way … and the next school is not in good shape,” García said. “Why do they want to close down a school that is working and is academically one of the best public schools?”

Critics of the government’s plan say that it was done without input from community members and educators.

“Even if the spirit is to decentralize, the methodology has been no participation from teachers, parents or alcaldes, (mayors),” said García.

On Friday, Deputy Education Secretary Eligio Hernández told NBC News the closings will help streamline resources for what he considers an underserved population; 71 percent of the student body lives in poverty.

“We have to reconfigure the system to our current realities,” said Hernández. The plan includes shifting personnel, including teachers as well as office and janitorial staff to schools with a larger number of students.

Hernández said he understands the resistance to the changes, but he thinks communities will eventually understand the benefits.

For parents, more uncertainty

The school that Del Valle’s boys attend currently serves over 100 students. Usually, school children begin pre-enrolling in March, but that didn’t happen this year. Del Valle said she had planned to enroll her son Jariel for high school last March. He finishes middle school in June. But the school was not enrolling students and instead put him on a waiting list.

Now she’s wondering if other schools will have space for her kids. Under Puerto Rico law, parents can choose which school their children attend.

“Now I have to go from place to place to see what schools have space for enrollment and hope they take my kids for the new year,” she said. “Right now the school where my little one was relocated to, he says people say it is in a bad sector and that worries me.”

“The rumors about the closing had been going on, but let’s see what happens now. I hope to God that they don’t actually close the school down. I still have faith.”


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German election frontrunner Olaf Scholz: Who is the man likely to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel? | World News



After 16 years of Angela Merkel in the chancellorship, Germany can be said to value leaders who are regarded as strong and steady.

It is something the leading contender in Sunday’s election, Olaf Scholz, is counting on as he bids to become the natural successor to the outgoing leader – despite being from a different party.

The pair know each other well – Social Democrat Mr Scholz has been Ms Merkel’s finance minister and vice chancellor in the uneasy “grand coalition” of conservatives and members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) she had to bring together to form a government in 2017.

Before entering government, when he was an MP, Mr Scholz was often seen around then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Pic: AP
Before entering government, when he was an MP, Mr Scholz was often seen around then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Pic: AP

The latest polls suggest Mr Scholz has come from behind in his bid to replace her, while the main conservative candidate Armin Laschet has fallen behind.

If Mr Scholz wins, it will be a vindication of his attempt to follow in Ms Merkel’s footsteps.

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Germany election: What’s at stake?

Although frequently labelled “boring”, the 63-year-old finance minister has been keen to present himself as a man of action who can be trusted to get things done.

And, despite promising continuity and stability, Mr Scholz has distanced himself from his former conservative partners in the coalition, claiming they are too cozy with business.

A lawyer by background, he is a widely experienced politician having served in some of the highest offices at local and national level.

He first entered the German parliament at the age of 40 in 1998, and, amid spells of various lengths within the government of the city-state of Hamburg, has been high up in the federal government or SPD for the last 20 years.

Mr Scholz served as minister for labour in Angela Merkel's first cabinet after his appointment in 2007. Pic: AP
Mr Scholz served as minister for labour in Angela Merkel’s first cabinet after his appointment in 2007. Pic: AP

He was mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018 but has also held the position of SPD chief whip, SPD deputy leader, and minister of labour and social affairs in Ms Merkel’s first government, as well as his current roles.

During the pandemic, Mr Scholz won praise from the International Monetary Fund for his measures, having ditched a balanced budget at home to protect the German economy and helped create the EU’s COVID recovery fund, despite Ms Merkel’s initial resistance.

Amid soaring German inflation and pressure from his conservative adversaries, he has been keen to keep the activities of the European Central Bank (ECB) separate to the government’s handling of the German economy, pointing to the need to respect the ECB’s independence, following the lead of his chancellor.

As mayor of Hamburg, one of the events Mr Scholtz presided over was hosting then prime minister David Cameron on an official visit to Germany just before a vital EU summit in 2016
As mayor of Hamburg, one of the events Mr Scholz presided over was hosting then prime minister David Cameron on an official visit to Germany just before a vital EU summit in 2016

He also cooperated with France to drive forward efforts to introduce a global minimum rate of corporate tax and new tax rules for tech giants.

His combination of prudence and vital assistance amid the crisis have paid off.

A snap poll after the last TV debate showed Mr Scholz won a clean sweep, despite conservative candidate Armin Laschet attacking his record on tackling money laundering.

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Is Germany as green as it would like to think?

From the moderate wing of his party and thoroughly versed in the realities of German government, if he wins he will set about the task of building a coalition, probably with the Greens, but perhaps of the grand coalition type that Ms Merkel has lived happily with repeatedly, alongside her CDU party.

During the COVID era, he has underwritten his left-of-centre credentials with a significant stimulus package but, in opposition to some on the left of his party – which is similar to the UK’s Labour movement – he wants Germany to rein in debt by 2023, reintroducing strict limits on federal and state government spending.

Olaf Scholz (L) is said to have won all three TV debates against the Greens' chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock and CDU's candidate Armin Laschet. Pic: AP
Olaf Scholz (L) is said to have won all three TV debates against the Greens’ chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock and CDU’s candidate Armin Laschet. Pic: AP

His claim to be as calm and collected as his potential predecessor may be on shakier ground than he admits, having shown a tetchiness in the past in his dealings with the media and rioters during the Hamburg G20 event, but he is adamant he is driven by pragmatism, not personality.

“I’m applying for chancellor, not to be a circus ringmaster,” he told women’s magazine Brigitte.

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Taliban prisons chief says the group will resume executions and amputations as punishment | World News



One of the founders of the Taliban has said that the group will resume executions and amputations as punishment.

Mullah Nooruddin Turabi warned the world against interfering in the plans, which come just weeks after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Western troops.

Mr Turabi, who was chief enforcer of the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled the country in the late 1990s, said: “Everyone criticised us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments.

“No one will tell us what our laws should be.

“We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

Taliban fighters outside Kabul University, Afghanistan. Pic: AP
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August. Pic: AP

Previously, convicted murderers were shot in the head by the victim’s family who also had the choice of accepting money and allowing the offender to live.

Convicted thieves had their hand amputated and highway robbers had a hand and a foot amputated.

Mr Turabi told the Associated Press that amputating hands “is very necessary for security”, adding that during the Taliban’s previous rule, such harsh punishments helped bring “complete safety” to the country.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Friday that the punishments “would constitute clear gross abuses of human rights”.

“We stand firm with the international community to hold perpetrators of these, of any such abuses, accountable,” he added.

“We are watching very closely, and not just listening to the announcements that come out but watching very closely as the Taliban conducts itself.”

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How popular is the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Taliban fighters have already revived an old punishment of public humiliation for men accused of small thefts.

At least twice in the past week men in Kabul have reportedly been put on the back of a pickup truck, their hands tied, and driven around the city.

But despite the revival of the old punishments, Mr Turabi insisted: “We are changed from the past.”

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Previously, the judiciary was heavily-influenced by hardline Islamic clerics but Mr Turabi said judges, including women, would adjudicate future cases.

He also said the Taliban would allow technology such as mobile phones, TV, photos and video “because this is the necessity of the people and we are serious about it.”

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Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou released after reaching agreement with US prosecutors | Science & Tech News



Huawei’s chief financial officer has reached a deal with US prosecutors that allows her to return to China.

Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, has been in Canada since she was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018.

Her arrest followed an extradition warrant issued by the US for a range of charges relating to alleged breaches of sanctions against Iran.

But the deal means the US Department of Justice will drop its request to extradite her to the US and fraud charges against her will be dismissed in December 2022 – exactly four years after her arrest.

This will depend on her complying with certain conditions, including accepting responsibility for misrepresenting her company’s business dealings in Iran.

Meng’s defence lawyer Michelle Levin said she expected Meng to adhere to the conditions, adding: “We’re very pleased that in the meantime she can go home to her family”.

The details were confirmed during a court hearing, with Meng appearing via video from the Vancouver mansion where she was bailed after her arrest.

The court revoked all bail conditions, and Meng left for China shortly afterwards.

Before she left, Meng said: “Over the last three years my life has been turned upside down.

“It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and as a company executive.

“But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life.

“I will never forget all the good wishes I received.”

About an hour after Meng’s departure, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau said that two Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities were also on their way home.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor had been accused of spying and were arrested in China in December 2018 – shortly after Meng was arrested in Canada.

Mr Trudeau said: “These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that.”

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