AFT Protests Corporal Punishment Ban in Schools

Protesting teachers on St. Croix last week seemed down right fighting mad.

Several teachers and representatives of the local branch of the American Federation of Teachers union gathered outside the Curriculum Center on the big island on Monday, April 26, to protest a planned ban of corporal punishment in the territory’s public schools, according to a report in the V.I. Daily News.

The issue was at the forefront of a heated debate on Love City last year between a parent who did not know of the policy and a St. John public school administrator who used corporal punishment more than once on a child.

Teachers and principals in the territory’s public schools have the authority to hit students under the V.I. Code. Title 17, chapter 9, sub-chapter 1, subsection 87 reads, “all principals and teachers in the public schools in the Virgin Islands shall have the right to exercise the same authority, as to conduct and behavior, over pupils attending their schools during the time they are in attendance, including the time required in going to and from their homes, as parents, guardians, or persons in parental relation to such pupils.”

The law has been interpreted to allow principals and teachers the same authority to discipline as parents, including the use of corporal punishment.

This year, however, St. Thomas/St. John District Superintendent Janette Smith-Barry has instituted a policy to ban corporal punishment in the district’s school, a move which AFT representatives said was illegal.

Since authority to hit students is included in the V.I. Code, Smith-Barry’s policy is in violation of that law, Vernelle deLagarde, president of the St. Thomas/St. John AFT local 1825, told the V.I. Daily News last week.

Citing the need to end the practice of corporal punishment in district public schools, Smith-Barry told the newspaper that it had been misused in several cases.

“We’ve had a couple of incidents that were most unfortunate and that gave evidence of the misuse,” Smith-Barry was quoted in the V.I. Daily News.

“She said there was one instance where a teacher was taping three rulers together to hit the students with,” according to the V.I. Daily News report. “In another case, a teacher lined up all the students and went down the line, beating each student for no justifiable reason, she said.”

DeLagarde, however, told the paper that the practice was necessary to maintain control in the classroom.

“There’s no assistance or follow-through in a lot of cases,” she told the V.I. Daily News.

V.I. Board of Education officials are expected to look into the matter, as its policy reflects the V.I. Code.