BILL TO BAN CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS FORWARDED

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony and voted in the affirmative for a bill banning corporal punishment at the Virgin Islands Department of Education. Separately, the Virgin Islands Department of Labor shared the status of the Unemployment Insurance, Loss Wage Assistance Program, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, and the Summer Employment payments.

Bill No. 34-0097- An Act repealing and reenacting Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 130, relating to authority to discipline pupils in schools; and repealing Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, subchapter I, section 87, relating to the punishment of pupils by school officials. The measure seeks to ban corporal punishment, defines reasonable force, prescribes factors for determining the use of physical force, and grants immunity from civil and criminal liability to a school employee.

In support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Department of Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin noted that corporal punishment in schools is an act of violence against students. Defining student discipline sets the precedence for acceptable disciplinary actions. Similarly, Bouyant Living Psychotherapy Psychotherapist Nisha de Jean Charles stated that it is time to employ disciplinary strategies, appropriate to a child’s age and development, helping to teach emotional regulation, self-soothing, and conflict resolution skills. To strengthen the bill, Berry-Benjamin recommended that the bill should apply to private schools as well. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory suggested that the measure be amended to include verbal abuse as a form of corporal punishment. Senator Whitaker indicated that providing training to educators and personnel on crime prevention also supports student development.

Separately, the Department of Labor Acting Commissioner Nesha Christian-Hendrickson shared an update. Due to massive job loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of $191,426,922 were paid out to 26,000 active claims for the Unemployment Insurance Programs. Christian-Hendrickson stated $25,159,530 was disseminated from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program and $19,882,019 from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation paid out $82,703,021. Moreover, Christian-Hendrickson mentioned that out of $7,323,000 for the Lost Wages Assistance Program, a total of $7,208,790 was disbursed to certified and eligible applicants.

The following measures were removed from the agenda:
• Bill No. 34-0091 – An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41 relating to the courses of study in public schools to address gaps in education curriculum and workforce development by adding home economics, equine studies, information technology, and by creating a reporting mechanism for the development and implementation for curriculum
• Bill No. 34-0094 – An Act amending, Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 3, section 24(a)(2)(2) to establish and mandate stakeholder engagement and participation in the development of a report for the annual assessment and evaluation of all public-school facilities; and adding subsection (e) to require stakeholders to hold town hall meetings on St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John

Senators attending the meeting: Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Milton E. Potter, Carla J. Joseph, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Kurt A. Vialet, and Javon E. James.