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USVI Public Schools Will Resume In-Person Operations On August 9 , DOE Says

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Virgin Islands Department of Education officials announced in a series of radio and online interviews this week that all public schools in the territory will resume in-person operations for the 2021-2022 school year, beginning August 9. The announcement came following walkthroughs of campuses in the two districts by V.I. Department of Health officials.

“We are prepared and excited to safely bring all of our students back to our campuses on August 9,” Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin said. “We continue to work hand-in-hand with Commissioner Encarnacion and the Department of Health on all matters concerning the safe operation of our schools during the pandemic.”

Berry-Benajamin further pointed out that the Department of Education reopened some of its school campuses for in-person instruction at the end of the 2020-21 school year, giving schools the opportunity to hone their operations in anticipation of the return of all students in the new school year.

“We successfully opened some of our school campuses from March to May of the 2020-2021 school year,” she said. “Those two months afforded us the opportunity to test the effectiveness of the safety protocols in place at our campuses, and we have been pleased with the outcomes. We look forward to returning all of our students and staff to safe, in-person school environments.”

RETURN TO IN-PERSON LEARNING

• All USVI public schools will resume in-person operations on August 9, 2021
• Schools and/or classes will revert to virtual or hybrid instruction ONLY if COVID-19 cases are impacting in-person operations
• The Department of Education has equipped its schools with the necessary technology to seamlessly move from in-person operations to virtual/hybrid operations when necessary
• All students needing a laptop computer or MiFi internet device will be issued these items when schools reopen
• Students are required to be dressed in the school’s uniform while on campus

SPECIAL VIRTUAL PILOT PROGRAM

• For the 2021-2022 school year, the Department of Education will pilot a fully virtual program for select students who qualify in each district (this program is not open to all students)
• Eligible students for the virtual program are students in grades 6th-12th who have 1. Demonstrated the ability to work independently online, as evidenced by student grades from the 2020-21 school year and 2. Or, students with an illness, confirmed by a note from a licensed health practitioner, that prevents the student from attending classes in person
• The Department of Education will inform families of their eligibility to participate in the virtual pilot program; space is limited
• Instructors for the virtual pilot program will be sourced through an online educational service provider
• The virtual pilot program is intended to explore the Department’s interest in establishing an online public school in the future

CAMPUS SAFEY PROTOCOLS

Masks

• Students and staff are required to wear masks at all times while on campus; masks are not optional; they are considered a part of the school uniform
• Regular breaks are incorporated into the school day, or on an as-need basis for students to remove their masks outside, under the supervision of a teacher

Handwashing/Sanitization

• Frequent handwashing and/or the use of hand sanitizer is a normal part of the school day
• Additional handwashing stations have been placed throughout school campuses; bathrooms and classrooms have been retrofitted with automatic paper towel, soap and hand sanitizer dispensers

Social Distancing

• Under the guidance of the VIDOH, a two-feet distance will be maintained between desks and students/staff are required to maintain three-feet social distancing when traversing the campus

Temperature Checks

• Student and staff temperatures will be checked at the gate of the campus each morning before entry is allowed
• Isolation rooms are made available on each campus to cater to students exhibiting signs of illness

Plexiglas Barriers

• Plexiglas barriers are installed at teacher and student desks, and front offices. These barriers are not a requirement of the CDC or the VIDOH; the Department of Education installed the items as an added measure of safety for students and staff

COVID-19 TESTING & VACCINATION ON CAMPUS

• There is no local or federal mandate for residents to be vaccinated for COVID-19; however, the V.I. Department of Education strongly encourages employees and students, aged 12 and up, to get vaccinated
• With guidance and support from the VIDOH, schools will conduct regular COVID-19 testing of students, with parental consent

SCHOOL LUNCH

• Students in grades PreK-3 will receive covered breakfast and lunch in their classrooms
• Students in grades 4-12 will receive covered breakfast and lunch at a designated area on campus in a grab-and-go format
• Cafeterias will remain closed to avoid large crowds congregating
• Parents/guardians of students enrolled in the virtual pilot program may pick up meals at the school nearest to their homes

SCHOOL BUS TRANSPORTATION

• School bus transportation will resume across the Territory
• Students are required to wear a mask at all times while being transported on the school bus
• Under guidance from the VIDOH, students may sit two to a seat on school buses
• The VIDOH will conduct regular visits to bus stops to ensure
• School bus drivers are required to wear masks

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

Arthur A. Richards K-8 Merger

• Arthur Richards K-6th grade students will attend Eulalie Rivera K-8 School (Eulalie uniform is to be worn)
• Arthur Richards 7th-8th grade students will attend John H. Woodson Jr. High (Woodson uniform is to be worn)
• Claude O. Markoe Elementary 6th graders promoted to 7th grade last school year will attend John H. Woodson Jr. High School

Expansion of Early Childhood Learning

• Lew Muckle Elementary School will be the site of the St. Croix District’s newest Granny Preschool – email studentservices@stx.k12.vi for more information
• Joseph Sibilly Monroe Annex will be the site of the St. Thomas-St. John District’s newest Sugarapple Preschool – email sttregistration@vide.vi for more information

Berry-Benjamin reminds the public that, as the Territory is still responding to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be instances where schools are impacted.

“As we are still responding to COVID-19 here at home and across the globe, it is inevitable that some of our students and staff may be impacted by the virus,” she said. “I want to encourage every employee and eligible student to get vaccinated—it is the best way to keep yourself and others safe. However, we have protocols in place at all of our campuses to address cases of COVID-19.

We are well-prepared to keep our students and staff safe, as we did last school year when some of our campuses reopened. We ask the community for its support as we embark upon this new phase of educating our students during a global pandemic.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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