Education Committee Hears from Parents, Teachers

Sen. Wayne JamesThe mother of a student who wants to stay in school begged the Legislature to help her Tuesday, saying she has been wrestling with the Education Department for weeks to find some way to have her son attend classes — to no avail.

The Committee on Education, Youth and Culture met Tuesday evening in Frederiksted to get input from parents, school workers, teachers and others — not the high-level officials who appear regularly before the Senate — to try to get practical input toward improving results on the ground.

Melanesia Encarnacion, the child’s parent, was one of about a dozen or so who came out to share their views, but the only one there specifically as a parent of a current student. She said she was told over the summer not to bring her child back to school because she and her child had been disrespectful to a teacher two years earlier. So she went to the school, then the Education Department, and from one office to the next for weeks, trying to find a way to get her son in school.

According to Encarnacion, she went to St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Gary Molloy and was told there was an appropriate program, but with grades averaging below 60 percent, her son didn’t qualify.

"They were giving me an option that wasn’t an option," she said. "I went back and forth, I filled papers out and was denied three days before school started."

She said she was told her son could not attend St. Croix Educational Complex because he lived out of the district, so now the legal guardian is the grandmother, who lives in the district for that school.

"I was so desperate, I called the governor’s personal address asking for help," she said. "This child does not have a learning disability. There are no records where they can say he is a menace to society or to the school yet they are refusing to educate my child. Sometimes we create monsters in society because we don’t go that extra mile. But my child isn’t out on the streets causing trouble. He is at home all day and just wants to go to school. I am begging as a mother, as a parent who wants their child to have a better life, for someone to help me. All he wants is for somebody to say ‘Yes, come to school.’"

Sen. Wayne James said he would look into it.

"I am sure that after tonight somebody will address your situation," James said.

A dozen other Education Department employees, parent-teacher association presidents and concerned citizens offered their views at the hearing. Eurman Fahie, assistant track coach at Educational Complex, suggested the territory’s libraries should stay open later.

"What about those kids who don’t have a computer at home and need a place to go study?" Fahie asked. "Why not have split shifts, one from eight (a.m.) to three (p.m.) and another from three to 11 (p.m.)? "

James suggested in response the libraries could could simply open later too, as no students were using them during the school day. Having an extended school day, so kids could study, do homework and participate in sports and after-school activities until 5 p.m. would be useful too, he said.

Travel for student athletes remained a problem though he has been protesting and trying to raise awareness of the problem for 15 years, he said.

Library consultant Wallace Williams said there were 24 local men and women who recently received master’s degrees in library science, of whom only eight had been hired locally, six on St. Thomas and one each on St. Croix and St. John. He argued it would be a loss to the educational and library system, and hence to the territory’s students, if they could not be put to use, especially if they were to leave the territory in search of better options.

The St. Croix hearing was the first of three evening hearings, with one on St. Thomas Wednesday and on St. John Thursday. Present were James, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Michael Thurland. Absent were Sens. Louis Hill, Neville James and Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly. The meeting was informational and no votes were taken.

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