BILL TO ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN BILINGUAL EDUCATION MOVES FORWARD

Published: Feb 9, 2022

St. Croix- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker, met Tuesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room and consider several Bills on the day’s agenda.
First on the agenda was Bill No. 34-0154, which is an Act seeking to amend Title 17 of the Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41(a) relating to bilingual education to direct the Department of Education to establish and maintain the Bilingual and English Language Development Program in the public schools. The measure seeks to establish the Division of Bilingual and English Language Development and directs the Department of Education to establish and maintain an English Language Development Program. The program may consist of implementing a bilingual education curriculum or an English as a second language support program, as stated in the bill.
Senator Whitaker, one of the sponsors of the bill, indicated that it is the fundamental responsibility of the Legislature to put the statute in place and set the standards for the education curriculum. The legislation does not only focus on students learning how to speak English but also encourages students who speak English to learn another language. Senator Samuel Carrion is also a sponsor of the bill.
Currently, the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) is providing accommodations for English Learners (EL) on state assessments and developing accountability systems to ensure equal academic opportunities for bilingual students; according to VIDOE Deputy Commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Renee Charleswell who read the testimony into the record on behalf of VIDOE Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin. Furthermore, Charleswell noted that changing the existing title from Bilingual Education to Bilingual and English Language Development Program applies to the classroom settings.
Equally, in support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Board of Education Chairman, Kyza Callwood, noted that it is important to identify a funding source for the section of the Bill requiring people seeking certification as teachers and school administrators to have basic knowledge of the needs of EL students. In response to Senator Carla Joseph’s inquiry about the total amount of funding required, Callwood stated that the figures could be determined after collaborating with the Legislature, VIBOE, and VIDOE. He expressed concern that the additional certification requirement would exacerbate the teacher shortage. After several rounds of questioning, members voted in favor of the bill and the measure was forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The Committee then moved to consider Bill No. 34-0189- An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 3, section 24, relating to school management accountability. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Genevieve R. Whitaker.
Members of the committee and non-members engaged in a round of deliberations and thereafter, a motion was made to move the measure; however, the motion failed due to the lack of a second.
A majority of committee members moved a motion to recess the meeting at the call of the chair. The motion was carried. Chairwoman, Senator Whitaker said the committee will take up the remaining items at its next scheduled meeting planned for March 17, 2022.
Senators attending today’s meeting were Genevieve R. Whitaker, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Janelle K. Sarauw, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Milton E. Potter.

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