Teachers Walk Off Job Over Repeated Threats, DOE Says

The Lockhart K-8 School on St. Thomas. (Source file photo)
Lockhart School teachers walked off the job because of recurring threats from students and their parents, Department of Education officials said. (Source file photo)

Teachers at Lockhart School on St. Thomas walked off the job Wednesday morning because of ongoing threats of violence by students and parents, Virgin Islands Department of Education officials said.

The job action by 4th-8th grade teachers, which Education officials said had not been sanctioned by the teachers’ union, sent parents and bus drivers scrambling. The school sent out an “urgent dismissal notice” a little after 11:45 Wednesday morning, asking parents to pick up their children as soon as possible. Bus drivers came for other children hours earlier than scheduled.

Kindergarten through third-grade classes were not affected.

While not giving specific examples of the threats or their frequency and severity, Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington said it was a reoccurring issue.

A written statement from Education officials about the matter urged civility. “Parents and guardians play a critical role in the education of their children. It is imperative that concerns be addressed through respectful and constructive dialogue adhering to school protocols, rather than resorting to violence or threats,” the statement said.

Wells-Hedrington said while the teachers’ actions were also disruptive, the Department of Education was dedicated to creating a safe, nurturing, and inclusive learning environment for all students and educators

“The school’s administration will work with faculty, staff, and district personnel to develop a plan to address reoccurring behavioral concerns,” Wells-Hedrington said. “Specific concerns have been raised regarding disruptive behavior and repeat offenses by students. In hearing the concerns of the teachers, we understand the severity of the issues presented. Disruptive behavior not only interrupts the learning process but also undermines the safety and well-being of students and educators. We recognize the need for the implementation of improved internal practices to address the issues head-on.”

The commissioner met with the local American Federation of Teachers president, Leontyne Jones, to hear concerns, according to the Department. Jones and other union officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The commissioner also met with the school’s administrative team to discuss a plan of action to address shared grievances and the need for additional intervention. Assistant Commissioner Victor Somme III and Insular Superintendent Stefan Jürgen were also on-site to meet with the administration, faculty, and staff, according to Education officials.

“The safety and security of our educational spaces remain a priority, where teaching and learning can thrive without fear or intimidation. We take these matters extremely seriously. Our educators are the backbone of our educational system, and their safety is of utmost importance. Any threat or act of violence against them is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Wells-Hedrington said in a written statement.