Published: Dec 15, 2021

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. Officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) shared an update on the plans for the 2022 school reopening. Lawmakers also received testimony on a bill relating to school truancy and were updated on the status of the ICF contracts and workforce. All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

To ensure a safe re-opening of public schools scheduled for January 10, 2022, administrators, teachers, and the district staff established “Learn from School,” a plan to assist with a seamless transition from Virtual Learning to In-Person Learning, according to the Virgin Islands Department of Education Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin. VIDOE Superintendent Stefan Jurgen mentioned that students in the 4th to 6th grades will attend school five days a week. However, students attending Addelita Cancryn Intermediate and Junior High School from 4th to 8th grades will attend school two days a week and three days for virtual learning. Meanwhile, 9th-grade students are expected to do in-person learning for four days and one-day virtual learning. However, 10th through 12th-grade students will learn in person for two days a week and three days at home. Similarly, VIDOE St. Croix District Superintendent Carlos McGregor indicated that a schedule for in-person and virtual learning was created per grade. Elementary school students are expected to attend school five days a week, while junior high school and high school students will learn in-person for two days with three days of virtual learning. There are a total of 153 students attending public school in the St. Croix District.

Furthermore, Berry-Benjamin noted that all schools will host re-opening orientation sessions in-person and virtually to inform parents of school-related information. Digital learning platforms such as iReady and Think Central will continue to be utilized in the classrooms. Teachers and students will continue to use the laptops provided by VIDOE. Additionally, Social and Emotional Wellness Programs are available for students as needed. To ensure student and staff safety, Berry-Benjamin mentioned that all campuses will be equipped with CDC-approved items to include plexiglass barriers on the desks, handwashing stations, hand sanitizer dispensers, air purifiers, and electrostatic sprayers. Sen. Whitaker stated that VIDOE must work harder to meet the deadline for the re-opening. “This is a major re-opening, and we need to see a lot more energy. VIDOE should be working overtime, hiring additional staff as necessary to have a successful school re-opening for 2022.”

Separately, senators voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-1044, sponsored by Senator Novelle Francis, Jr. and Senator Genevieve Whitaker which is an Act seeking to amend title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, section 86 relating to school truancy to provide procedures for addressing unexcused absences from school and providing for related purposes. The measure seeks to establish procedures for involving parents in the school’s measures to eliminate truancy, including parent conference to identify potential remedies for improving students’ attends, written agreements between the school and the parent and referral to family court for judicial intervention, as stated on the bill. In support of the measure, in a written testimony submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands and read into the record by VIDOE Legal Counsel Alvincent Hutson, Esq., Berry-Benjamin recommended that a funding source is required to increase in school attendance counselors, home visits, and monitoring.

Lastly, the Department of Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy shared the status of the workforce Development Programs and the ICF contracts. The programs are broken down into two categories under the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, WIOA Title 1 Program and WIOA Title III Program. Both programs are funded by federal funding, grants, and/or the General Fund. Molloy explained that employment and training services are provided for the youths, dislocated workers and eligible adults are offered under the WIOA Title 1 Program. WIOA Title III Program offers numerous employment labor exchange services such as recruitment, placement assistance for job seekers, and re-employment services. The Summer Youth Work Experience Program, State Apprenticeship Agency Programs, the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery funded for skills are also overseen by VIDOL. Regarding the ICF contracts, the main responsibilities are to provide program management of CDBG-DR Grant and to have training services for the Workforce Development Program.

Senators attending the meeting were Genevieve R. Whitaker, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Sammuel Carrion, Franklin D. Johnson, Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett Gregory, Carla J. Joseph, Janelle K. Sarauw, Milton E. Potter and Steven D. Payne Sr.

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