Benjamin-Berry Says Department of Education Reviewing Its Systems to Protect Students

V.I. Department of Education’s Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin (File photo)

In the wake of Charlotte Amalie track coach Alfredo Bruce Smith being arrested on multiple counts of child pornography and allegations of molestation, V.I. Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin issued an open letter to the community expressing the Department of Education’s shock, offering support to the families of victims and acknowledging areas within the department’s systems that need “shoring up.”

In her letter, Berry-Benjamin said the department condemns the abuse of children in every form and holds the safety and well-being of students as the top priority.

“With the recent arrest of one of our employees for alleged molestation of multiple minors and production of child pornography, my team and I are deeply troubled by these very serious allegations and are cooperating fully with authorities. We have acted swiftly to review our existing systems designed to protect our children and identify ways to further strengthen those systems,” she wrote.

She said she shares the feelings of the victims and their families.

“To the parents of the victims, the leadership at the V.I. Department of Education understands your feelings of anger, hurt and disappointment. We are also processing the same emotions, as we, too, are hurt, angered, and disappointed by this situation. We are here to support you in every way and are committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure the continued safety of the children entrusted to our care,” she wrote.

“This painful incident is not representative of the Virgin Islands public education system, but it has brought to light areas that need shoring up within our system,” she said in the letter.

The records revealed Wednesday in court alleged that the abuse had taken place over at least six years and involved more than 10 victims.

The records also say that one witness had alerted a school official but was not satisfied with how the matter was handled.

Berry-Benjamin called on the community to join in the work ahead.

“We are doing the work and invite you to partner with us,” she said. “I urge you to intervene and report any suspected child predators and any suspicious activity involving children by dialing 911 or contacting Homeland Security Investigations at 1-800-981-3030. Moreover, I ask you to encourage students to tell a trusted adult, friend, or family member, or dial 911 if they are experiencing any form of abuse.”