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CTE LEGISLATION HELD AND ONLINE LEARNING MEASURE MOVES FORWARD

Published: Sep 24, 2020

ST. THOMAS—The Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, held a committee meeting on Wednesday in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.

The Committee took testimony and voted on two proposed measures:
Bill No. 33-0344, proposed by Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff, sought to amend the Virgin Islands Code to allow the Department of Education to hire, on a contractual basis, licensed electricians, plumbers, mechanics, masons, cosmetologists, carpenters, drafters, and any other licensed professionals considered necessary to teach career and technical education courses to supplement the Career and Technical Education Center’s programs.
Bill No. 33-0360, proposed by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, sought to amend the Virgin Islands Code by adding a section implementing and outlining the requirements for online learning.

In support of his proposed legislation, Sen. DeGraff said that Career and Technical Education (CTE) is his passion. He added that the idea to get professionals to teach vocational and industrial trade had been a daunting task. He pointed out that one can learn a business to support themselves and families in the future.
Arah Lockhart, Chairperson, VI Board of Education, said in regards to Bill No. 33-0344, the Board recognizes, appreciates, and supports the intent of Senator DeGraff’s efforts. She added that they would like to clarify their objection to any contract being offered when a qualified teacher on the island is available to provide instruction. Furthermore, they hope that this legislation will be applied territory-wide to Career and Technical Education programs in both districts.

Rosa Soto-Thomas, Chairperson, President VI Board for Career and Technical Education St. Croix Federation of Teachers, stated in her testimony that they understand the impetus for Bill No. 33-0344 to address the shortages of CTE teachers, especially in the Building Trade. She said this is the wrong way to go about solving the problem.
According to Soto, Virgin Islands teachers with 0-8 years of experience is $44,000 and topping off with 30-years of experience is $62,000. She wanted to know in this aspect, what salary will be offered to private CTE Teachers? Furthermore, will these individuals be ready to write lesson plans and be prepared to handle the rigorous evaluations as other CTE teachers.

Carol Callwood, President, St. Thomas/St. John Federation of Teachers stated, “As the union responsible for collective bargaining for educational personnel of the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE), we are responsible not only to fight for safe and sanitary working conditions but also to provide fair and adequate compensation work that they do.
She added that one of the issues in hiring qualified teachers to fill the CTE programs and the regular education vacancies is the low salary offered by VIDE. She encouraged raising the wages to eliminate the challenge in hiring teachers in any field of study.

Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner, VIDE said the proposed legislation if approved, does not extend the Department any new authority, as the Department presently has the power to contract for professional services as those presented in Bill No. 33-0344. She added that the proposed legislation does not outline how this new section will comport with the powers of the CTE Board.

The Committee also took testimony on Bill No. 33-0360, an Act amending the Virgin Islands Code by adding a section implementing and setting the requirements for distance/online learning proposed by Senator Frett-Gregory.
According to the sponsor, Senator Frett-Gregory, the discussion around this piece of legislation ensures that 9-12 grade students are afforded the opportunity in the areas that they would not ordinary received due to a teacher shortage. She added that through long-distance learning, these students would have the ability to receive credit.
Commissioner Berry-Benjamin said Bill No. 33-0360 is timely as distance learning has become necessary in the technological world in which we live. It is considered essential for success in today’s modern way of living, working, and learning.

She pointed out that the VIDE should have modernized its operations to include distance learning some years ago; however, from the viewpoint of “nothing happens before its time,” the time has come to transform. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the needed financial resources and shift in the Virgin Islands Community’s thinking, which is necessary to build and implement distance learning.

Christine Fox, Interim Executive Director of Florida State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), said she supported the proposed legislation. According to her, SETDA has provided authoritative reports used by national and state organizations to support broadband access both on and off-campus. She added that a robust infrastructure enables schools to expand learning options, empowers students to create content, participate in virtual courses that may not be otherwise available on their campuses, and collaborate with experts or other students remotely.
The Bill was amended and favorably approved by the Committee and sent to the Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The Committee received updates from the DOE about the transitional process status from classroom/in-person distance learning; the new pre-K classrooms for the school year 2020-2021 in the St. Thomas/St. John District; federal funds expiring on September 30th, 2020; and other matters that have impacted the Department’s operation due to COVID-19.
According to Commissioner Berry-Benjamin, the most significant obstacle impacting the Department’s operations, as it relates to starting the school year, was the unavailability of funds in March to purchase laptops for all public school students when schools first closed due to COVID-19. The Department was required to wait until July 25th to access CARES Act Funding to purchase the necessary technology for students.

Senators at Wednesday’s hearing were Chairperson, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, Kurt Vialet, Kenneth Gittens, Allison DeGazon, Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, J., Oakland Benta, Steven Payne, Sr., and Marvin Blyden.

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