SENATORS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION

Published: May 12, 2020

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory met Tuesday at the Capitol Building to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) regarding promotional policy and credit recovery, curriculum/instruction, distance learning, distribution of electronic and wireless hardware, graduation, the SY 2020- SY2021, and Federal Funds.

To ensure that all students are continuing their studies, curriculum & instruction have transitioned from onsite learning to online education programs such as Accellus, Edmentum, and iReady; a platform that focuses on reading and mathematics for all grade levels. Ultimately, the programs allow virtual learning from home, according to Racquel Berry Benjamin, Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Education. Furthermore, she noted that not only are there credit recovery opportunities throughout the summer for public school students but to conclude this school year, final grades are determined based on the student’s academic performance from September 2019-March 2020. Promotion to the next grade level requires that a student has an average of seventy percent earned by March 17th.

Regarding the distribution of electronic and wireless hardware, to date, a total of 437 laptops computers and 327 MiFi internet devices were disseminated to students Territory-wide. The breakdown is as follows: In the St. Thomas-St. John District 171 laptops and 178 MiFi internet devices were distributed. In the St. Croix District, a total of 266 laptops and 149 MiFi were given to students; according to Benjamin. Sen. Kenneth Gittens inquired about the number of students who lack computers and/or internet access to assist with virtual learning. In response, Carlos McGregor, Insular Superintendent for the St. Croix District stated that over 700 students do not have internet access and/or a laptop. Meanwhile, there are over 600 students who do not have internet access and/or a computer in the St. Thomas-St. John District shared Dr. Stephan Jurgen, Insular Superintendent of that District. In response to Sen. Allison DeGazon’s inquiry concerning VIDE offering electronic support to teachers, Benjamin indicated that 211 teachers completed a survey and of that 9% had computers at home while 12.6% did not.  Lastly, 2.2% of teachers did not have internet access at home.

Subsequently, traditional graduation ceremonies are cancelled, and seniors will participate in virtual graduations that will mimic the format of traditional graduations. The only difference will be that students will be watching online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, lawmakers expressed concern about the $40.00 graduation fees required of seniors despite virtual graduation. Jurgen stated that graduation packages vary and items such as caps and gowns were already ordered. “It’s not fair to ask parents to pay for graduation fees when Federal Funding was given to VIDOE. Please take a closer look at the CARES Act,” said Sen. Frett-Gregory. Likewise, Sen. Kurt Vialet said, “The pandemic has caused so much sadness. It is a phycological thing in which students and their families can celebrate the student’s success at their graduation.” Lastly, Benjamin noted that out of the eleven Federal Grants awarded to VIDOE, four of them are set to expire. An extension was requested for those grants.                                                      ###

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