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Senator Genevieve Whitaker tours Virgin Islands Public Schools

Senator Genevieve Whitaker tours Virgin Islands Public Schools amid school reopening efforts by the VI Department of Education and urges FEMA, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and others to support effort to accelerate the rebuilding of Virgin Islands public schools

St. Croix, Virgin Islands (U.S.)—This week, on July 26th in the St. Thomas-John District and on Wednesday, July 28th in the St. Croix District, Senator Genevieve Whitaker participated in the Virgin Islands Department of Education’s (VIDE) school facilities tour. It is important to note that Senator Whitaker requested the tour of schools weeks ago ahead of the Territory’s highly anticipated school reopening next month. However, as of the date of this Release Governor Albert Bryan, ordered that schools remain closed, and virtual learning remains in effect for the upcoming school year. Additionally, the slow progress of the rebuilding of our schools continues to remain a major concern for Senator Whitaker, a number of her colleagues as well as the wider community.

Senator Genevieve Whitaker was joined by a Committee member, Committee members staff, non-Committee members, and their staff, both leaders of the American Federation of Teachers Unions (St. Croix Federation of Teachers, AFT- Local 1826 and St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers AFT 1825). The delegation of leaders met with VIDE officials, headed by Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, who was given a walkthrough of elementary, middle, and high schools. On St. Thomas, the following schools were toured: Joseph Sibilly Elementary, Jane E. Tuitt Elementary, Addelita Cancryn Junior High, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and on St. Croix: Pearl B. Larsen Elementary, Eulalie Rivera Elementary, Juanita Gardine Elementary, Claude O. Markoe Elementary, Ricardo Richards Elementary, John H. Woodson Jr. High and St. Croix Central High School. Senator Whitaker did request why all schools set to be reopened were not included in the tour; to date, the only response given by Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin, concerned the Julius Sprauve School, wherein she stated that “[VIDE] provided a tour to the Senators of the Julius E. Sprauve school within the last five months when schools where opened for in-person learning.” Senator Whitaker, in a statement during the tour, commended the VIDE’s operational staff on both islands for their open communication with stakeholders regarding school concerns and their efforts to bring the facilities into compliance and revealing to her the barriers on the part of FEMA in denying their application to bring all schools into American Disabilities Act compliance.

Additionally, Senator Whitaker raised the questions surrounding reopening plans for the 2021-2022 from the start of her service and for several weeks and months. The necessary equipment should have already been purchased. Senator Whitaker hasbeen tracking the number of construction contracts issued by the Department, noting that much of the work for those contracts only begun in the past couple of months. During the tour,it was made apparent that much of the structural work remains incomplete, due in some part to contractors experiencing difficulty in the shipment of materials.

Senator Whitaker shares that “if VIDE engaged in more proper strategic planning, the department would have been able to access and utilize a more sizeable portion of CARES Act funds to help secure and purchase the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), services, air purifiers, needed to facilitate in-person school learning. Close to $20 million in CARES Act I, $53 million in CARES Act II funding has been allocated to the VI Department of Education from Congress in response to COVID-19, and there should be a lot more available equipment to show for it,” said Whitaker.

Senator Whitaker is also urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the VIDE’s efforts to rebuild our Virgin Islands public schools. “Earlier this month, I reached out to the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona via correspondence letter, concerning the excessive return of federal education funds, the disrepair of our school, lack of resources such as up-to-date textbooks, “ states Senator Whitaker. “I invite Secretary Cardona to visit the Territory to witness the conditions of our Territory’s schools in hopes that he will step in to offer additional supportive actions to address the crisis. I have also contacted our Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett as I am asking for her support in addressing the barriers presented by the federal government to rebuild our schools,” states Senator Whitaker.

In sum, Senator Whitaker remains diligent in the exercise of oversight over the education stakeholders, in this case, the Virgin Islands Department of Education. Also, through her relationship with respective education stakeholders, Senator Whitaker is championing education legislation of overhauling and reforming the curriculum. The next hearing date for the Education and Workforce Development Committee is Wednesday, August 4th, at 9:30 am.

If you would like to join Senator Whitaker’s office as an education stakeholder, please contact the office at 340-712-2379 or via email at Together, we can bring about meaningful changes in our community.

“Education is the Premise of Progress,” Kofi Annan


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