The Virgin Islands Board of Education on Saturday called the Department of Education’s move to return select public school students to in-person learning premature and called on the department to meet with the board to provide details of the plan and answer concerns.
The Department of Education had announced on Friday plans for select groups of public-school students to return to campus for face-to-face learning. Classes in the plan were Pre-K through third grade, special education self-contained classes, and career and technical education students enrolled in a specific career pathway.
The announcement prompted Saturday’s emergency meeting of the V.I. Board of Education, and the board issued a call for a meeting with DOE officials no later than Wednesday, Sept. 1
“The board is against the return to in-person learning until the department has attained the required clearances that attest to the readiness and safety of the territory’s public schools and until there is documented evidence of the ability to safely provide instruction based on factors such as adequate staffing and properly prepared classroom spaces,” the Board of Education wrote in a news release issued Saturday.
Board of Education Chairman Kyza A. Callwood said the department’s decision to return to in-person learning was not made in collaboration with the board or in accordance with statutory requirements.
“Title 17 of the Virgin Islands Code mandates that the board, in consultation with partner agencies to include the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Health and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, certify the safety of schools prior to the commencement of every school year,” he said. “While the board has conducted a walk-through of the territory’s schools and provided the department with recommendations to facilitate the reopening of schools, it has not received those reports or pertinent responses needed to conclusively determine whether our schools are adequately and equitably prepared for the return to in-person learning and instruction. In short, the department is attempting to circumvent those statutory requirements that are intended to ensure the safety of education personnel and students.”
The board’s news release listed the following issues of concern.
– The absence of school nurses in every school;
– The department’s decision to return the PreK-3 students to in-person learning, considering that this population is not eligible for vaccinations;
– The department’s ability to protect the students returning to in-person learning from COVID-19 and the new Delta variant;
– The department’s ability to support the mental health and well-being of the students returning to in-person learning;
– The department’s ability to meet the technological needs of students;
– The department’s efforts to ensure that each classroom has adequate ventilation; and
– The department’s strategy for conducting COVID-19 testing for education personnel and students prior to entering the school campus.
The board’s statement said the pandemic environment demands that school nurses are available at each school facility to support the health and safety of education personnel and students and further minimize the spread of COVID -19. The board recommended that the department provide access to vaccination for students who meet the age requirement and have parental consent.
“While the board strongly believes that in-person instruction is the best mode of learning for our children, especially considering the challenges of navigating their education during a pandemic, there must be clear evidence of the highest levels of readiness and safety for all students and staff. We anticipate that we will continue to work with the Department not only to satisfy statutory requirements but to support the best interests of our students,” Callwood concluded.