Leaders Address Crises at USVI’s Public Schools

According to a news release from Senator Genevieve Whitaker:
Senator Genevieve Whitaker, Legislative Secretary Chairwoman, Committee on Education and Workforce Development, is alarmed by the reports of the recent school crisis on school fights and security issues from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) on Thursday, September 1, 2022.

Senator Whitaker and her team have worked consistently to ensure that our students, teachers, faculty, and staff are safe attending school, and the proper people are emplaced to always protect them. Such efforts include but are not limited to engaging with education stakeholders who work with her as they work collaboratively to address this ongoing crisis. The Department of Education acted swiftly to secure
Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS) campus of any potential threat and the school was later placed on lockdown coupled with the recent occurrence of school violence (fights and discovery of weapons and
drugs), Senator Whitaker jumped into action making immediate contact with Commissioner Nominee
Dionne Wells-Hedrington as they have been in regular and frequent contact addressing school concerns
from the start of the year. Both Senator Genevieve Whitaker and Commissioner Nominee Dionne WellsHedrington made the conscious decision to hold an emergency meeting and invite other key personnel of the Department of Education and all members of the 34th legislature to hear the concerns and provide any resolutions to the matter. In attendance were Commissioner of Education Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, Victor Somme III, Assistant Commissioner of Education, Dr. Carla Bastian Deputy Superintendent of Schools-VIDE, Dr. Stefan Jurgen St. Thomas-St. John Insular Superintendent and other education officials and Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, Samuel Carrión, Senator Javan E.
James, Sr., and staff member representing the office of Senator Novelle E. Francis Jr., and Senator Angel
L. Bolques, Jr.

As shared during the meeting, the Virgin Islands Department of Education has been seeing a decline in
teachers, monitors, and the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) presence since the start of the
semester. In addition, they’re now experiencing ongoing fights occurring at the public schools,
particularly St. Croix Central High School for the last weeks. Although there are monitors on the school
campuses to ensure school safety, the number of incidents that continue to occur has become
overwhelming and unsafe to tackle. The suggestion was raised by Commissioner Nominee WellsHedrington about receiving equipment to assist with thoroughly searching the students of contraband, and weapons on school campuses, and to do so we must acquire the resources to hire more monitors. While parents are calling the Department of Education abruptly to discuss the random searches at the public schools, The Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) is remaining confident in continuing those searches to protect everyone’s safety. Commissioner Nominee Wells-Hedrington indicated that she has been working closely with VIPD Commissioner Ray Martinez who sprang into action to address the issue at the CAHS campus along with the school monitors. Those searches centered on locating any weapons and contraband on the campus. Today, VIDE find themselves using drones to canvass the perimeter of schools, and lately, they have found an individual selling contraband to underage students outside of the schools. The Commissioner as well as her staff pleads with the parents to be proactive in their children’s lives and understand that conducting searches or adding policies is for the betterment of our students, teachers, faculty, and staff.

Additionally, Senator Whitaker has sought to create a youth court legislation tied to school issues and has
a good working relationship with the Hillsborough County court judges/administration who are committed to working with Virgin Islands court judges/administration. Also, Assistant Commissioner Victor Somme mentioned recruiting students to participate in the strengthening families program with the Department of Human Services, and the best part of the program is that there is no inconvenience to parents. The program provides transportation, food, and childcare. Ivan Williams, Special Assistant to the
Commissioner of Education added to the dialogue of safety that our monitors should be able to return to
using their batons to be able to defend themselves and provided the proper training to use them effectively and other defense mechanisms. While one of the issues at hand is retaining monitors, it was highlighted during the meeting the high cost associated with the psychological evaluation exam required as part of the onboarding process (the exams cost $1,000.00). The Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) is also seeking funding to obtain cameras, increase security staff and police presence, and other incentives that can help reduce illegal activities in our Virgin Islands’ public schools.

Senator Whitaker remains vigilant and committed to improving school conditions by ensuring that key
stakeholders are at the table. Senator Whitaker has already had informal meetings with Commissioner of
Education, Dionne Wells-Hedrington who has already committed to creating a better relationship with the
public and her office to address all concerns regarding the improvement of Public Schools in the territory
in support of our children/students, teachers, administrators, support staff. Please be on the lookout for
further updates on upcoming hearings and public engagements from the office. The next Committee on
Education and Workforce Development hearing will take place on Monday, September 12, 2022, at 10
a.m. at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Conference Room wherein school concerns will be addressed as well as
legislation Senator Whitaker is offering concerning curriculum (the teaching of Virgin Islands and
Caribbean History from K-12), and the Board of Education’s power to hire superintendents. If you would
like to join the office as an education stakeholder, don’t hesitate to contact the office via email at:
senatorwhitaker@legvi.org or via phone at 340-712-2379.