St. Thomas

St. John



Published: Sep 13, 2022

ST. CROIX – Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, led by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker met in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers voted in favor of bills relating to the integration of the Virgin Islands and Caribbean History into classrooms as well as expanding eligibility for scholarship funding at the University of the Virgin Islands. All approved measures will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.


In block one, the committee voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0238, an act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 5, Section 41(c), relating to courses of study in public schools to require that the Virgin Islands and Caribbean history be taught specifically in Kindergarten through 12th grade and for other purposes. The measure was proposed by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker.  


Dr. Kyza Callwood, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Board of Education delivered testimony. Per Callwood’s testimony, the Board had no objection to Virgin Islands and Caribbean history being taught in public schools. However, the board stated that there was a need to provide additional resources and reminded the body that there is insufficient time in the current school day for all the courses and subjects mandated by the Legislature to be included as stand-alone courses for all students.  


Virgin Islands History is a stand-alone course and is a graduation requirement for every student on the senior high school level, and it must be taught within the context of the social studies curriculum on the lower levels. The Board of Education recently reviewed the Department of Education’s VI Standards of Achievement (VISA) which holds the Department accountable for higher educational and academic goals from 2022 through 2024. The Board requested that the content and materials that are used for Virgin Islands and Caribbean History be made available to all schools (and include in the VISA) additional resources by local and Caribbean authors and historians.  


Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, the Commissioner-Nominee for the Virgin Islands Department of Education delivered testimony. Per Wells-Hedrington’s testimony, the bill in its current form accurately reflected what the Department was currently doing. She stated that Virgin Islands and Caribbean History were not only integrated but embedded within the Virgin Islands standards. The Virgin Islands Department of Education recently completed the development of new standards for Social Studies under the Banner of the Virgin Islands Standards of Achievement for Social Studies. These standards were approved by the Virgin Islands Board of Education on August 29, 2022. Wells-Hedrington stated that because of the work that the Department of Education had done, there was no need for implementation of the bill.  


In block two, the Committee considered Bill No. 34-0236, an act amending Title 17, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15, Section 190dd extending the eligibility for the Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship Program to part-time students. The measure was sponsored by Senator Samuel Carrión. 


Dr. Camille McKayle, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of the Virgin Islands delivered testimony. In 2018, the 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands enacted Bill 32-0328, which amended Title 17 of Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15, and added section 190dd, providing financial aid for tuition to residents of the Virgin Islands for post-secondary education at the University of the Virgin Islands. According to McKayle’s testimony, there were 17 states with a form of statewide tuition-free assistance. Most of the programs were “last dollar” programs, which meant that student aid and grants would be provided first, and then free tuition would cover any gaps left in tuition.   


After analysis, it was determined that the University of the Virgin Islands would better reach students by changing to a “first dollar” approach. First dollar approaches were found to bring tuition programs closer to being equity driven. Equity-driven programs were found to be better able to assist students who were challenged by the cost of a college education. The University of the Virgin Islands is one of the few programs that aids bachelors and associates degree programs. In Fall 2022, UVI no longer required students to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to access the tuition dollars that was provided by the Virgin Islands government. The proposed change to the application of the Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship would put the University of the Virgin Islands in the company of states that have a “first dollar” program. McKayle stated that the implementation of this bill would bring the Virgin Islands and the University of the Virgin Islands closer to serving students who would benefit the most. According to McKayle, of the 15 active tuition programs, only five were open to part-time students. The University of the Virgin Islands supports extending the eligibility of the Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship program to part-time students. 


Finally, in Block Three, the committee received testimony concerning the critical issues with respect to the current status of our schools, including but not limited to learning loss prevention, after-school programs, curriculum plans the school bus transportation crisis, delays in the installation of kitchen equipment, insufficient school supplies, lack of running water, school safety crisis and hazardous safety conditions, shortage of school nurses and medical supplies, as well as after school program plans, and interscholastic sports. 


Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, the Commissioner nominee for the Virgin Islands Department of Education delivered testimony. In Wells-Hedrington’s testimony, she emphasized that the Department of Education is committed to providing a quality educational experience for all students. The 2022-2023 Academic Year began on August 8, 2022. Total enrollment is 10,198 students, with 5,087 in the St. Thomas-St. John District and 5,111 in the St. Croix District. As of September 6, 2022, there were 2,207 active employees within the Department, which was an increase of 65 employees, more than reported on August 16, 2022. There are 1,071 employees in the St. Thomas- St. John District and 1,136 in the St. Croix District. There are currently 105 vacant positions in the St. Croix District and 78 vacancies in the St. Thomas-St. John District.  


The Department continues to encourage mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent washing of hands as methods to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. To prepare for the 2022-2023 academic year, the Department of Health trained returning and new school nurses on the Beacon System, which was implemented to accurately plan for, execute, and track in school COVID-19 cases. The Department of Education obtained CLIA Waivers (the Clinical Laboratory Improvement and Amendment) from the US Department of Education so that school nurses could test symptomatic students on-site with parental consent. 300 test kits are on hand in the St. Thomas- St John District and another 2,000 kits have been ordered through the Beacon System. The Department has encouraged students, faculty, and staff to get vaccinated for COVID-19. 


The use of edibles has also been a major concern for the Department, as it has risen over the past two years. The Department is scheduled to meet with the Virgin Islands Board of Education on September 16, 2022 and will request that students who have committed Level 3 and 4 infractions of the Board’s Student Discipline Policy involving possession, and use of illegal substances participate in drug education and substance abuse counseling as part of the suspension. An Edibles Taskforce was formed among the Police Department, the Department of Health, the Department of Education with the support of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, and the Department of Human Services. It has participated in school-based presentations centered on preventative education and substance and drug use. 


Testimony detailed renovations and improvements to the territory’s schools. The Department utilized CARES II Funds to access all schools for code compliance and developed initial designs and scopes of work for critical repairs. The following projects will be Eulalie Rivera’s kitchen installation, kitchen repairs at five schools, (Central, Woodson, Gardine, Muckle, and Ricardo Richards), and safety and kitchen repairs at Larsen and Andrews. Kitchens in the St. Thomas- St. John District are being assessed, and improvements will follow. ARP funds will be utilized to make critical repairs such as providing code-compliant electrical power, gas lines, plumbing repairs, and installing kitchen equipment. Modernization of the Gladys Abraham Elementary School is ongoing and negations for FEMA Funding are in progress. Concepts for a new building for Addelita Cancryn’s 6th through 8th Grade Students is being developed.  


The demolition of severely damaged buildings at the Guy Benjamin Center on St. John has been placed out for bids. The Department is partnering with the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation to develop a community and educational center at Guy Benjamin. A design-build RFP will go out soon for a New Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS), a New Central High School, and a Modernized Bertha C. Boschulte PK-8 campus. An RFP for the design of the New Julius E. Sprauve PK-12 School will be prepared to allow an architect to be in place when the land swap is finished. The Department, the Office of Disaster Recovery, and FEMA are discussing costs for the replacement schools and VIDE has received partial funding for work at Bertha C. Boschulte. Demolition of CAHS buildings A, B, and C is in the first phase, which consists of abatement and complying with historic preservation documentation requirements. On St. Croix, the Evelyn Williams campus demolition is underway and expected to be completed this year. A design-build team has been selected, and once the contract has been signed, the Department will work with the Campus Architectural Team to give feedback on the final design.  


Senators present at today’s committee meeting included Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Kenneth L. Gittens, Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Javan E. James, Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, and Novelle E. Francis, Jr. 

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