The Senate’s recent decision to repeal a law that would have had public schools opening early in August has affected the operations of local summer camps, which are now closing early and sending students home for more than a month with little to do, organizers of a student march through downtown St. Thomas said.
More than 200 students turned out for the march, which made its way from the V.I. Veterans Memorial Park, down to the Zone A Command Police Station, past the Legislature and down Government Hill. Many carried signs speaking out against the violence in their own local communities, which some said they will have to return to now that the camps are over.
“Four of our brothers in the Hidden Valley area just lost their lives,” Lakito McFarlane, this year’s Mr. Night Out, said Wednesday. “Giving kids something to do during the summer so that they stay out of trouble is important, and we are asking for us to have at least two more weeks of summer camp so we can stay occupied and maybe keep away from some of the bad things that are going on.”
Usually the camps run until the middle of August, giving students about a week off before school starts after Labor Day. School lunch is provided through the Department of Education for students, but this year, since senators had approved new changes to the school calendar that would bring the students back during the second week in August, plans were made to end the camps around July 25, according to march organizers.
Since school lunch is subsidized by the federal government, Education Department spokeswoman Ananta Pancham explained Wednesday that summer food orders were also made in accordance with the July 25 date.
Plans changed, however, when the Senate repealed the school calendar law, which extended the summer another month, according to organizers of Wednesday’s march.
“I don’t think they realized how the decision they made affected our kids,” said Weed and Seed program coordinator Jacqueline Freeman. If the repeal did not happen, “this would not be an issue and the kids would be home for only a week, instead of a month,” Freeman added.
Freeman said the students, who participated in summer camps and programs across St. Thomas, organized the march in hopes getting their camps extended for two more weeks. They also took a pledge Wednesday against violence, drugs and gangs.
“The students are very concerned about the youth violence … going on in their communities. They say people in their neighborhoods are being affected,” Freeman said. “Now they are going back and there is nothing for the kids to do, so they are asking for two more weeks.”