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LAWMAKERS VET BILLS TO STRENGTHEN LAWS ON HOMESCHOOL

Published: Aug 12, 2020

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory met on Wednesday at the Capitol Building to receive testimony on several measures regarding various aspects of the V.I. Department of Education (VIDE) homeschooled requirements for the 2020-2021 school year. Senators vetted and voted on bills as it pertains to the instruction of children at home and scholarship benefits for students receiving home instruction. All measures approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Lawmakers voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 33-0063- An Act repealing and reenacting Title 17, Chapter 9, section 84 of the Virgin Islands Code relating to the instruction of children at home. “The measure is timely due to the community dealing with the adverse impact of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have the right to choose the best educational setting for their children. This bill offers a fair and regulatory balanced system for students who are homeschooled,” said Sen. Novelle Francis, Jr., Sponsor of the bill. In a written document submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands by VIDE Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin, which was read into the record by VIDE Assistant Commissioner Victor Somme, Benjamin shared recommendations to further strengthen the bill. Currently, the provision in the bill requires two electives annually. However, Benjamin stated that it is critical to integrate additional electives such as computer skills, arts, and music into the annual curriculum. Furthermore, Benjamin mentioned that students who are homeschooled should be allowed to participate in after-school extracurricular activities; presently that is omitted from the bill. Lastly, to ensure a smooth transition from home school to public school, the student’s portfolio should include a compilation of work to include projects, worksheets, quizzes/tests, and writing samples instead of the submission of ten samples of schoolwork; as stated in the bill.

Moreover, Benjamin noted that once a parent decides to utilize the home school option, the parent takes on the entire responsibility for the instructional program used in teaching the student. However, policymakers did not concur. “Homeschooled students have to be held to the same educational standards as students attending public schools. The student’s educational experience must align with the basic academic requirements because ultimately, the student should be able to enroll in a college or university,” Sen. Kurt Vialet said. Similarly, Sen. Frett-Gregory shared her concerns. “DOE missed the mark on the mission statement because it is their responsibility to regulate and oversee all students including those who are homeschooled. We must ensure that our children are getting the best education possible. I am equally concerned about the formation of the Home School Advisory Board. Homeschooled students should be under the purview of the Board of Education.”

Separately, senators voted and approved: Bill No. 33-0347- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 15, section 190dd to provide scholarship benefits for persons receiving home instruction. Bill sponsor, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said, “The measure intends to ensure that all students, including those who are homeschooled, have an equal opportunity when applying for scholarships in pursuit of Adult Education.” Somme speaking on behalf of Commissioner Berry suggested that the legislation be amended to state that scholarship benefits apply to an authorized VIDE Home School Program and that students are enrolled in the program for at least three years.                                                                                               ###

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