Corozal – Her daily routine is posted on the white wall of her classroom: it begins with welcome, with 17 steps in between – “positive affirmations, singing and dancing to the videos, Spanish, snack, Science”, and so on – until reaching the farewell. She must follow it to the letter.
Is called Jose Lagunais 17 years old and lives with autism. The his mother, Melissa Ortizfears that the progress he has made since October 2022, when he entered the City of Ideas Bilingual Academy (CIBA), are at risk, since the center located in this municipality could close in April if it fails to obtain a contract with the Education deparment.
“Here, he has everything he needs,” says Ortiz, sitting in front of the blackboard on which Jose writes the date of the day every morning. “I can’t consider taking him out of school because he is totally backward.”. He can stay one day, two, three (without his routine), but, on the fourth day, you have to put him in his routine because he completely decompensates.”
Since its opening in August 2022, CIBA does not have a contract with Education, so it operates by the reimbursement method, which means that parents pay for the monthly tuition and the agency must reimburse them for payments so that the services be free.
At present, Jose is the only student enrolled at CIBA. According to the doctor Migdalia Santosfounder of the space, the reason is that parents do not trust that Education will comply with refunds. And this is confirmed by Ortiz, who claims that the agency owes him thousands of dollars for the expensive education that Jose requires.
“It’s quite uphill. One gets frustrated, because it is not easy,” laments Ortiz.
Mine9 years old, started classes at CIBA in January, but his mother, Laura Valentin Rivera, had to remove it in June because Education did not comply with reimbursements. The mother confirmed The new day who still owe him about $13,000. He also alleged that Education communicates only when the situation is reported in some media.
“CIBA was the light in the middle of the road. My daughter comes from a situation of abuse in a public school in Bayamon… from there, she spent a year or so at home,” she shared via telephone.
Valentin Rivera said that he had to turn to social networks to find a new school for Mia, because in Education “no one responded to me.” The situation at the Bayamon campus made the minor not want to go to the bathroom and she lost trust in her staff. “CIBA was the one who made him trust the teachers again,” she said.
Dr. Santos showed that she has sent several communications to the designated Secretary of Education, Yanira Raices Vega, but has not received a response. He acknowledged, on the other hand, that he does not know what the process is for requesting a contract from the agency and urged guidance.
In written statements shared with The new dayEducation noted that CIBA has not submitted a proposal for a contract.
Everyone has the right to live a dignified life, no matter if you are autistic or not. But autism is one of the most judged disorders because it is invisible
Regarding the money owed to Ortiz, the agency indicated that “it has processed two refunds, one for $9,000 and another for $13,500.” “He should receive the same in the next few days”he added, highlighting that there is no payment term for reimbursements, as they depend “on the availability of funds.”
Need for services
The island has not had updated data on the population suffering from autism for more than a decade. A report from the Puerto Rico Statistics Institutefrom 2011, found that nearly 7,000 boys and girls – or one in every 125 children under the age of 18 – suffered from autism spectrum disorders (TORCH).
In 2022, the Puerto Rico Autism Alliance detected a 120% increase in students with autism enrolled in the public education system during the last 10 years.
Dr. Santos stated that the need for the services she intends to provide through CIBA is broad. There, they also offer the therapy treatment that a student needs. If she obtains a contract with Education, the clinical psychologist hopes to serve about 10 young people with individualized plans.
“Everyone has the right to live a dignified life, no matter if you are autistic or not. But autism is one of the most judged disorders because it is invisible,” she pointed out.
For its part, Stephanie Perez, Jose’s teacher, expressed concern about the possible closure of CIBA, as she understands that spaces like this are increasingly necessary in Puerto Rico. She stated, on the other hand, that, since August 2022, she has guided more than 50 parents interested in CIBA.
“It is extremely important that there are schools like this because the population is increasing.” and they have fewer and fewer resources, they have fewer and fewer opportunities in the Department of Education, which is something I’m not proud to say, but it is the sad reality. This is what, as a teacher, I have had to hear from parents’ experiences,” Perez said.