Nicaragua’s Schools Test Teacher Loyalty to Ortega

The teachers are subject to outside control and forced to follow the Ministry of Education’s orders to increase school attendance, despite the increase in infections and deaths amid education personnel.

Students and teachers are exposed to COVID-19 by attending in-person classes. Government authorities have refused to suspend this modality. Photo: Nayira Valenzuela / Confidencial

By Cindy Regidor & Keyling T. Romero (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The Ortega government is applying a plan to track teacher loyalty through their participation in FSLN party activities. The Sandinista Leadership Committees – the organs for party control at the neighborhood level –, are tasked to implement the plan. They will do so at all schools in coordination with the Ministry of Education.

In the past orders were carried out to classify teachers according to their level of loyalty to Ortega’s party. The idea was to identify if the teacher opposes the government; they now want to do this again.

“The first time that they filled out lists was after the civic rebellion that began in April 2018. It included all the people that were working in the school, right up to the security guard.  The options were: “hard”, soft”, “yes” or “no”.  A “yes” meant that they sympathized with the FSLN; a “no” that they were opposed. The “hard” opponent was the one who refused to participate in party activities. The “soft” opposition sympathizer was the one who wasn’t a Sandinista, but would follow orders and attend the activities,” stated a teacher from Masaya, under the promise of anonymity.

The teacher said numerous aren’t Sandinistas, but they identify as such in order to avoid repercussions. Others consider themselves Sandinistas, but not “Danielistas” nor followers of Rosario Murillo.  Many are annoyed because ever more extra-curricular activities are forced on them despite the lag in the curriculum. There are lessons that they haven’t been able to impart due to the poor attendance caused by the pandemic.

“The most fanatical members of the FSLN-allied teachers union even went to the extreme of threatening us. They say they’re not going to tolerate teachers who don’t participate in their activities. Much less those who criticize the party or the government,” the Masaya teacher stated.

Covid-19 infected teachers are put on leave “by word of mouth”

Officially, the number of teachers that have gotten sick in the schools is unknown. However, five months after the pandemic first arrived in Nicaragua, there are reports of over 46 educators who have died from the virus, according to the independent union “Unidad Sindical Magisterial”.

Another teacher, who requested not to be identified for fear of losing his job, stated that in Carazo department at least 15 educators have tested positive and been sent to recover at home. They’re now worried because the Ministry of Education authorities are undergoing an audit and are demanding that the principals of each center show their records of paid time off.

“They tell them to go home and to take 21 days or more off, but that permission is given verbally – not in writing. They also tell them: “we’ll inform the Superintendent”. But now they’re engaged in an audit and they see there are teachers who have missed nearly a month of work. The principals are being told that if there’s no written permission on record the teacher can be fired.”

On the part of the Education authorities, there’s no follow-up on the teachers who have been infected. Their pay – which averages from US $230 – $258 – hasn’t been suspended, but they don’t receive any other kind of support.

“It’s a bureaucratic knot, because the Social Security Institute says that they’re the ones to inform the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry says that they have no such report. I asked a Social Security functionary and they said: ‘Don’t worry, because that’s reported at the central level. It’s a group report they make.’ But we don’t really know,” declared the anonymous teacher.

Slight increase in school attendance

From the onset of the pandemic, the Education Ministry has made concerted efforts to get the students back into class. Some teachers were forced to go house to house to convince parents to send their children to school. This took place even during the months when there was the greatest incidence of contagion and death.  They were even told to promise that children who return will be passed.

“In the secondary school where I work, student attendance has increased. It’s now over 50%,” informed the Masaya teacher.

Nonetheless, the teachers are still being ordered to visit the students’ homes. “They tell us that the Sandinista Youth are going to accompany the teachers on their visits. Some teachers have had parents close their doors to them when they arrive at the house. They fear that if they arrive in the company of the Sandinista Youth, it will be worse,” the teacher noted.

In Carazo, the situation is similar, although there hasn’t been such a notable increase in school attendance. The teachers are ordered to hold fairs, make food, have parades in the communities. They also conduct drawing contests to convince parents and motivate the students to return to school.

A few weeks ago, Rosario Murillo, the Vice President and government spokesperson, announced that they would begin the traditional student September parades for Independence Day in the neighborhoods and communities. But she said this year they would be held “in small formats, with great care.”

“They want to hold the parades every Saturday in September to involve more of the population, because the majority of people work during the week,” the educator noted. The source expressed fear of becoming infected during these patriotic activities.