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USVI Community Pulse

The Cry for Reform!’: Students and Parents Decry Deteriorating School Conditions and Challenge Authorities

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In a powerful representation of civil unity and discontent, students from multiple schools in St. Croix, holding signs depicting their frustration, gathered on Monday to voice their discontent with the deteriorating conditions of their educational institutions. “When children become leaders, and leaders behave like children, it’s a call for reform,” stated a sign held by a student, representing the pervasive sentiment among the protesters.

Malia Navarro, a senior at Educational Complex High School and a prominent organizer of the protests, emphatically stated, “The time of silent endurance is over.” Students from Central and Complex, typically known as historical rivals, set aside their differences to jointly shed light on the subpar learning conditions affecting both schools.

The protest, however, was not only about the unbearable heat and the absence of air conditioning but also highlighted other crucial issues such as mold, termite infestations, leaky ceilings, and overall structural problems. Students and parents alike shared their concerns over the inadequate compensation for teachers, the paucity of learning materials, and the ensuing financial burden on families. One protestor’s sign poignantly read, “I can’t afford to buy school supplies for my mom’s classroom.”

The alarming lack of funding for maintenance workers and equipment also became a focal point of the protest, as poor maintenance not only affects students but also the wider community, with Complex serving as a hurricane shelter. The continuous neglect and underfunding of the education system have ignited a spark among students and parents to fight for systemic changes to ensure future generations don’t suffer under the same deplorable conditions.

The crowd relentlessly sought accountability from Senator Diane Capeheart, questioning her awareness of the poor school conditions during her election campaign and expressing disbelief at her assertion that lawmakers were recently made privy to the issues plaguing St. Croix’s schools. The persistent quest for responsibility was a reflection of the community’s increasing disillusionment with the existing governance structures and the perceived lack of genuine concern for educational standards and student welfare.

Several parents voiced their concerns over the seemingly misplaced budgets allocated to the Department of Education and the visible absence of investment in school infrastructure and personnel. The general disillusionment intensified when Ms. Capeheart left, with students continuing to air their grievances and disappointment, feeling a continuous lack of accountability from the lawmakers and an apparent disregard for longstanding issues.

Former senator Genevieve Whitaker emphasized the legal obligation of the Board of Education to submit a School Accountability Report detailing the status of various components of the education system and urged education officials to utilize federal grant funding awarded two years prior, to effect positive changes in schools.

Even Senator Kenneth Gittens faced a barrage of discontent from the protesters despite his efforts to extend an olive branch by bringing refreshments. His assurances of Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington’s promise to meet the students and inform them of future plans did little to assuage the crowd’s frustrations. Gittens’ acknowledgment of the legislature’s failure to adequately prepare schools during the summer only fueled the fire, with a child retorting about the recurrence of such issues year after year.

The sustained outcry from students and parents mirrors the profound discontent and frustration prevalent among citizens, who feel ignored by a seemingly indifferent government, a sentiment strongly manifesting through the ongoing crisis in the territory’s education system.

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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 Community Pulse

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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