Published: Jul 13, 2021

St. Croix–The Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Genevieve Whitaker, held a public hearing on Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix, with the Board of Education (VIBE) and the V.I. Department of Education (VIDOE).

The purpose of the hearing with VIBE was to receive testimony on the School’s Management Accountability Report to include School Facility Conditions and Planned Improvements (School Maintenance) as it is related to the Virgin Islands Code.

With the VIDOE, the Committee wanted testimony on the implementation of the Government of the Virgin Islands Professional Services contract and the Skills for today’s workforce development award.

Kyza A. Callwood, Chairman, VIBE, said upon consultation with the Commissioner of Education, a pre-condition to reopening schools and the reinstatement of in-person instruction was conducted upon consultation with the Department of Labor (OSHA) and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The purpose of these inspections was to determine the environmental safety of the territories’ schools.

According to Callwood, in early February 2021, the Board’s School Plants and Facilities committee conducted several St. Croix district school walkthroughs and discussed its finding, issues, and concerns with VIDOE.

Callwood said that the Board issued a certification of the reopening of the following elementary schools:  Pearl B. Larsen, Juanita Gardine, Lew Muckle, Alfredo Andrews, Eulalie R. Rivera, Ricardo Richards, Claude O. Markoe  and Arthur A. Richards Junior High which is located at St. Croix Educational Complex.

In late February 2021, he added that the School Plants and Facilities (SPF) committee made a concerted effort to conduct school walkthroughs in the St. Thomas/St. John district. She pointed out that scheduling conflicts, the Committee visited Ulla Muller Elementary, Jane E. Tuitt Elementary, Lockhart Elementary, Joseph Sibilly Elementary, Yvonne Milliner-Bowsky, and Joseph Gomez Elementary. After subsequent discussions with the Department regarding their findings, issues, and concerns, a resolution number was issued.

Callwood said some of the Board’s concerns for curriculum and student instruction were: (1)Based upon the Principals’ reporting, the VIBE recommends more sustainable support for the Department’s maintenance division through line-item budgeting and identified ongoing financial sourcing,(2) Conduct a financial audit of the VIDOE for VIBE’s review in areas of maintenance and student achievement, (3) For reporting of the 2021-2022 school year, the Department must convene an interagency meeting for stakeholder input on the reopening plan which must be provided to VIBE by July 15, 2021, and (4) Incomplete curriculum framework, scope, and sequence for the following subject: VI History, Cultural Education, Physical Education, Agriculture, and Health.

Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner, VIDOE, said for the 2021-2022 school year, the Department will operate in-person, the GREEN Phase, of its reopening of the school plan. She pointed out that if a student, class, or school experiences COVID-19 symptoms, that specific student, class, or school would revert to 100-percent virtual (RED PHASE) or a hybrid, where applicable until the Department clears every one being of good health to in-person learning.

According to Berry-Benjamin, VIDOE has equipped its schools with the necessary technology to seamlessly move from in-person operations to virtual/hybrid processes when necessary. All students needing a laptop computer or MiFi internet device will be issued these items when school reopens.

The Commissioner pointed out that the Department will continue to serve breakfast and lunch for all students in the following manner: (1) Students in grades PreK-3 will receive covered breakfast and lunch in their classroom; (2) Students in grades 4-12 will receive covered breakfast and lunch at a designated area on campus in a grab-and-go format; (3) Cafeterias will remain closed to avoid large crowds congregating; and (4) Parents/guardians of students enrolled in the virtual pilot program may pick up meals at the school nearest to their homes.

She added that school bus transportation would operate as follows: (1) School bus transportation will resume across the Territory; (2) Students are required to wear a mask at all times while being transported on the school bus; (3) Under guidance from the Department of Health (VIDOH), students may sit two to a seat on school buses; (4) The VIDOH will conduct regular visits to bus stops to ensure regulations are followed; and (5) School bus drivers are required to wear masks.

The Commissioner added that the Arthur A. Richards K-8 school is a real-time example of the changes accruing. She said the current challenges with the modular units are evidence that they are still experiencing the impact of the 2017 hurricanes. The demolition of the original school campus and the Charlotte Amalie Annex in St. Thomas is evidence that work is being done to modernize and build schools in the Territory. At the same time, they continue to maintain and repair aged facilities.

Regarding the Arthur A. Richards school, the following will be implemented: (1) K-6th students will attend Eulalie Rivera Elementary K-8 School and Eulalie uniform is to be worn; (2)7th -8th-grade students will attend John H. Woodson Jr., High (Woodson school uniform is to be worn; and (3) Claude ). Markoe Elementary 6th graders promoted to 7th grade last school year will attend John H. Woodson Jr. High School.

Senators at Monday’s hearing were Chairwoman Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Kurt A. Vialet, Kenneth L. Gittens, Milton E. Potter, and Carla J. Joseph.

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