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USVI Community Pulse

St. Croix District Schools Reopen Today After Addressing Teacher Concerns

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Today, September 21, 2023, the Virgin Islands Department of Education (V.I. D.O.E.) has confirmed that schools in the St. Croix District will resume regular operations. This update comes in the wake of teacher protests that disrupted school activities on Wednesday. According to the department, constructive discussions have been held with the American Federation of Teachers Local 1826 (AFT) to address concerns and minimize educational disturbances.

Earlier this week, an unexpected number of teacher absences led to a critical staff shortfall, forcing the closure of all elementary and junior high schools in the district. Among those affected was the John H. Woodson Junior High School.

To tackle the issues raised by educators, senior officials from the V.I. Department of Education, including those from the St. Croix District, engaged in fruitful conversations with AFT President, Rosa Soto-Thomas. These talks covered multiple areas of concern:

  1. School Electrical Systems: Dionne Commissioner Wells-Hedrington emphasized the urgent need for upgrading school electrical infrastructures, citing Juanita Gardine School as an example. Electrical work at this school began in August and is slated for completion by month’s end. The department is considering reallocating funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), pending federal approval, to address these issues.
  2. Air Conditioning Upgrades: Using CARES II funding, V.I. D.O.E. announced that it has acquired replacement AC units and components. These will be installed by the Operations Division as soon as they arrive.
  3. Effects of Recent Heatwave: The V.I. D.O.E. acknowledged that the recent heatwave had a considerable impact on school functions. It caused significant damage to electronic devices, totaling more than $3 million. This setback has deterred the possibility of a swift transition back to virtual education. Parents and students have been urged to return their electronic devices promptly. Schools most impacted by the heatwave are expected to have revised schedules beginning Monday, September 25.
  4. Teacher Certification: Remarkably, about 80% of the teaching staff are either uncertified or approaching recertification deadlines. The department announced its commitment to provide professional development opportunities and appealed for AFT’s collaboration in assisting teachers, particularly those specializing in Special Education.

The Department of Education has reiterated its commitment to maintaining a safe and enriching educational environment for students. It expressed appreciation for the union’s cooperation in resolving these critical issues and pledged ongoing transparency and open communication as the situation continues to evolve. One of the department’s key objectives is to minimize educational disruptions, thereby reducing the need for additional school days as compensation. Support from the local community remains integral to these efforts.

By addressing these issues promptly and engaging in dialogue with teacher unions, the V.I. Department of Education aims to stabilize the educational landscape in the St. Croix District. The department’s unwavering focus on student welfare and teacher needs ensures a more harmonious path forward for all stakeholders involved.

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USVI Community Pulse

V.I. Parole Board to Review Cases of Manslaughter, Robbery, and Fraud

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The V.I. Parole Board has released its schedule for parole hearings in June, inviting testimony from victims, family members, and other interested parties.

To submit testimony, written comments or requests to appear before the Board must be sent by May 30, 2024. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Chairman of the Parole Board
John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility
Rural Route 1, Box 9909
Kingshill, VI 00850-9715
Phone: (340) 773-6309 ext. 6817
Email: [email protected]

Hearing Schedule

June 3:
Edwin Rivera, convicted of second-degree robbery and currently incarcerated at the Citrus County Detention Facility in Florida, will have his parole application reviewed.

June 5:
Five inmates from the Tallahatchie County Facility in Missouri will be heard:

  • Jahzeel Fenton – First-degree assault (domestic violence)
  • Yamini Potter – Grand larceny, identity theft, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice
  • Jim Wallace – Voluntary manslaughter
  • Elieser Edwards – First-degree robbery
  • Dekumar Rogers – Unauthorized possession of a firearm

June 7:
The board will review the case of Mekel Blash, serving a sentence for second-degree murder, from the Wallens Ridge State Prison, Keen Mountain Correctional Facility, and Red Onion State Prison in Virginia.

June 10:
Applications from inmates at the John A. Bell Correctional Facility will be considered:

  • Francisco Tirado – First-degree unlawful sexual contact
  • Ethelbert Benjamin – First-degree unlawful sexual contact
  • William Wilson – Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute

June 11:
The board will hear applications from inmates of the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex:

  • Curtis Petersen – Stalking (domestic violence)
  • Edward Paul – Unauthorized possession of a firearm
  • Ray Sanderson – First-degree attempted robbery
  • Shamall Fleming – Second-degree assault (domestic violence)

Public Advisory

The Parole Board reminds the public that parole eligibility is based on the inmate’s sentence and V.I. parole statutes. Inclusion on the eligibility list does not guarantee parole or a scheduled hearing. Parole can only be granted on the recommendation of the Director of the Bureau of Corrections. Additionally, release dates depend on various conditions, including approval by the State Council of Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Adult Offenders.

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USVI Prosecutors and Public Defenders Now Eligible for Law School Loan Repayment Grants

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Prosecutors and federal public defenders in the U.S. Virgin Islands now have a chance to ease their law school loan burdens through a new grant program.

The Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission (LEPC) has announced the acceptance of applications for the John R. Justice Grant Program. This initiative, established during the Obama administration, provides loan repayment assistance to qualifying prosecutors and public defenders who commit to staying in their positions for at least three years.

This year, the LEPC has secured $51,840 in grant funds for the program. They plan to distribute approximately 10 grants of around $5,000 each, although the final amount could vary based on the number of applicants. “Awards may increase depending on the number of respondents,” the LEPC stated.

The grants are available to full-time federal public defenders and prosecutors. Full-time is defined as working at least 75% of a standard 40-hour work week. The selection process will prioritize applicants who demonstrate the greatest financial need in repaying their student loans.

The application process involves several steps: income verification, school loan verification, and the completion of a John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program Service Agreement. Applicants must also submit additional documents, including education loan records and proof of employment. The LEPC has indicated it will work with the Department of Labor to account for any increases in the cost of living.

Applications must be submitted electronically to the LEPC by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2024, at [email protected]. Incomplete applications or those lacking required signatures and documents will not be considered.

For further information or to request an application, interested parties can contact Ms. Carmen Potter, Executive Assistant to the Director, at (340) 774-6400 or via email at [email protected].

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USVI Community Pulse

Christiansted Bypass Renamed to Honor DPW Veteran Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen

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In a ceremony held during National Public Works Week, the Christiansted Bypass was officially renamed in honor of Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen, a dedicated public servant whose contributions have significantly shaped the infrastructure across the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nielsen, who has worked with the Department of Public Works (DPW) for over 30 years, was recognized for his extensive impact on public infrastructure projects on all three islands. DPW Commissioner Derek Gabriel highlighted Nielsen’s instrumental role in several key projects, including the development at Point Udall on St. Croix, the roundabout on St. John, and the Long Bay Revitalization on St. Thomas.

“It’s really the volume of work over his lifetime that we’re honoring,” said Jomo McClean, DPW’s Highway Program Manager and master of ceremonies. He emphasized Nielsen’s vision, patience, and leadership, which have been crucial in securing federal funds for large-scale projects like the Christiansted Bypass.

Senate President Novelle Francis praised Nielsen as a “quiet superhero” whose relentless efforts over the decades ensured the completion of the bypass despite numerous delays and setbacks. Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach also commended the shift towards honoring living individuals who have significantly contributed to the territory’s development.

Addressing the crowd, Nielsen expressed his humility and joy at the recognition. He reminisced about the bypass project, which originated from a 1972 study, describing it as a testament to persistence and cooperation. Initially met with public skepticism, the project eventually won widespread approval for its positive impact on traffic and quality of life in Christiansted.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. admitted his early doubts about the project’s feasibility but acknowledged its successful completion as a result of determination and collaborative effort. Nielsen echoed this sentiment, noting the bypass’s role in easing traffic and providing a recreational space for residents.

While celebrating the honor, Nielsen credited the collective dedication of all those involved in making the project a reality. The Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen Bypass, he concluded, symbolizes not only physical connectivity but also the spirit of progress and cooperation within the community.

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