In the midst of V.I. History Month, a bill brought by Sen. Franklin Johnson upholds the mandate for Virgin Islands history and basic Caribbean history to be taught in elementary and secondary schools, but removes the requirement for the subjects to be taught until 12th grade.
Testifier Mary Moorhead told the Committee on Education and Workforce Development that the bill seeks to mitigate the impact the requirement has on a pending court order.
“In light of what was the Legislature’s enactment back in December 2022, the court has, this case was pending at the time of Dec. 29, 2022, when the Legislature actively passed what is now Act No. 8684,” added legislative legal counsel Amos Carty.
“There was a trial on the merits, the parties presented their testimony and the Legislature then acted in which they had the right to do. So on Feb 27, 2023, the court entered an order saying whether the new law required integrated instruction of Virgin Islands and basic Caribbean history in each grade from kindergarten through 12 and if so whether such instruction is being provided accordingly,” Carty said.
Briefs were to be submitted by Feb 27. The Department Of Education and Board of Education submitted their briefs and in summary, are now arguing that the actions that the Legislature took in December “essentially made the plaintiff’s argument and what their interpretation of the statute was moot,” Carty added.
“It was the argument of the plaintiff that the previous statute required the Virgin Islands’ history and such courses part of the curriculum. So, it was the plaintiff’s argument the Department of Education was not following the law in that they were not having essentially V.I. history and Caribbean history as stand-alone courses. The plaintiff prefers to supplement after this body asks to move on Bill No. 35-0055,” Carty said.
The court has not ruled on the plaintiff’s case that was filed in 2013, according to records.
Johnson came to the defense of his bill saying, “the bill is a measure that has been on the books for 30 years, and we came now while whatever case hearing is going on, and changed it in the middle of the water. So we are not legislating based off a court case, we are legislating based off of what a bill for 30 years was enacted and never actually gave our children V.I. history.”
During testimony, the Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington stated a meeting is to be held on March 27 to discuss Bill No. 35-0055, and they would prefer to table the discussion until all parties are present.
Still, Sen. Marvin Blyden asked if the department still wants to table the bill to discuss policy and other matters since it has already made strides and processes to integrate the V.I. history into the curriculum as the current legislation states.
Wells-Hedrington stated that she doesn’t see a problem with the current legislation, and added that she is looking forward to making the amendments to make sure V.I. children are properly educated on their history.
With the majority of senators voting in favor of the bill, it now moves to the Committee of Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
Senators present at Thursday’s hearing were Alma Francis Heyliger, Carla Joseph, Donna Frett-Gregory, Dwayne DeGraff, Marvin Blyden, Diane Capehart, Marise James, Franklin Johnson, Javan James, and Novelle Francis Jr.