As a matter of habit, teachers start working in February, when the new school year begins. So do the support staff or administrative officials as the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) calls them.

The MEP central offices in San Jose.

This year, however, a cicular letter issued by the Minister of Education, Edgar Mora, orders some 20,000 administrative officials back to work on January 4, 2019, one month before than usual.

The directive annoyed the unions. Such was the displeasure, that the Asociación Nacional de Educadores (ANDE) and the Sindicato de Educadores Costarricenses (SEC), the same unions that led the public sector workers to strike for three months, presented themselves at the central offices of the MEP wanting explanations.

According to circular DM-0087-12-2018 on collective vacations, indicates that the administrative, administrative teaching and technical teaching staff will leave on vacation on December 24 and will return on January 4. The teaching staff (teachers in the classroom) and the concierge staff will go on vacation on December 18 and will return on February 5.

Yaxinia Diaz, director of the Department of Human Resources of the MEP, said that the administrators have a calendar month of vacations and that, in none of the MEP regulations, is it indicated that they have to take it in January.

Though not referring to the strike that saw thousands of teachers leave the classroom for months and schools closed, Diaz only said that the minister is applying “strict to the rule”, without negotiating anything with the unions and that the directive applies to school principals, administrative assistants, assistant directors, deputy directors, librarians and counselors.

“I cannot refer as to why they (administrative staff) used to take vacations in January, that’s with the minister. Now, it is being applied according to the principle of legality,” said Diaz.

For his part, Minister Mora justified the directive: “The Ministry of Education is in itself the great educational device of the country. Fully complying with the work calendar and the assigned schedule is a way of teaching through the vicarious experience, which is the way we prefer to learn, especially if we are young, as are the vast majority of our students. There is no administrative, legal or pedagogical reason that justifies not returning to work when society expects it so, because that is how it is regulated”.

Traditionally, administrative and teaching staff at the MEP was given vacation time from mid-December to the first week in February. In 2017, for example, then Education Minister, Sonia Marta Morta, issued a circular giving all administrative and teaching staff vacation between December 15, 2017, and February 1, 2018.

This year, students lost three months of classroom time given that the majority of teachers and administrative staff went on strike from September 10 to return days before the end of the school year this month.

The 2019 school year begins on February 5.

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