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Saturday, March 2, 2024
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Top Brass Promise Answers and Solutions to Central High Odor

While the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and V.I. Waste Management work out how to mitigate the noxious fumes that have sent students and faculty to the hospital in recent weeks, the Education Department has fashioned a split session plan that will see Central High students back in school on Tuesday.

The plan announced at a hastily called press conference Friday morning at Government House on St. Thomas will not affect either graduating seniors or accreditation at St. Croix Educational Complex, where the Central High students will be going, according to Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory.

Frett-Gregory said that all parents have to do now is help the department get their children ready for school on Tuesday using the new schedule.

While St. Croix parents have said the foul odor around Central’s campus has been on-again, off-again for the past couple years, it appears that the stench picked up again permanently in February, forcing Educational officials to close the school three times within just a couple of weeks.

Central’s doors have stayed shut since March 18, after more than 30 students went to the hospital complaining of symptoms ranging from dizziness to vomiting. During Friday’s press conference, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Central would stay closed until the problem is fixed, and Frett-Gregory added later that the department is ready to keep Educational Complex and Central High students in double session until the end of the school year, if necessary.

Beginning Tuesday, Educational Complex will report for their first period classes at 7:30 a.m. – students grabbing breakfast can report by 7 a.m. – while Central High students begin at 1 p.m.

Each period is 70 minutes, followed by a “grab-and-go lunch” for Complex students 12:25 p.m. and dismissal at 12:30 p.m.

Central High students will head into lunch at 12:30 p.m.; dismissal is scheduled for 6 p.m. (See below for full schedule.)

Speaking during the press conference, St. Croix Superintendent Gary Molloy said the “grab-and-go” lunch is only scheduled for the first four days and, after that, the department is looking how to bring in the hot lunch for students. Molloy also said that buses will be provided for students but stressed that they need to be at the bus stops before pick-up time: 6:30 a.m. for Complex students (with the exception of the two east buses that begin boarding at the regular 6 a.m.) and noon for Central High students (with the exception of the two east buses that board at 11:30 a.m.)

All bus stop locations are the same. To accommodate Central High students that normally walk home from school, these additional stops have been added in the surrounding areas: Clifton Hill bus shanty on Route 663; Harvey/Profit bus shanty; Candido Guadalupe housing community (facing Alfredo Andrews Elementary); and Aureo Diaz Heights housing community, in front of Charles H. Emmanuel Elementary.

Molloy also said:
– Central High Special Education students in the SIE program will be picked up at the normal time, and keep their normal schedule, with classes being held at the John H. Woodson Junior High School;
– Special Education students with Mod 2 and Mod IV schedules will be picked up at times to be arranged by the bus company and dropped off in front of Complex campus for the 12:30 p.m. Central session.

Meanwhile, officials from DPNR, VIWMA and the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency will continue to track the course and cause of the odor. After testing air quality in neighboring communities, VIWMA Director May Adams Cornwall said they believe the sulfur-like odor is coming from the sewer systems that run under the Central High School campus.

Deteriorating walls within manholes, pooling sewage and fallen bricks that may have blocked flow in the pipes have contributed to the disastrous developments, Cornwall said she believes.

Nearby industrial sites at the closed Hovensa oil refinery and at Diageo’s rum distillery have been ruled out as the cause of the most recent calamity at Central High.

“We’re not seeing similar issues in surrounding areas,” said DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes, which she said led the agency to focus on the drainage and sewer systems underneath the school campus. An abandoned sewer may be contributing to the problem, she said, but so far the investigation is inconclusive.

The end goal, the governor said, “is to fully understand what is causing the odor.”

Click here for detailed split session schedule.

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