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Temporary Suspension of In-Person Testimony and Closure of St. Croix Building on August 2, 2021

St. Thomas, Virgin Islands – On July 21, 2021, the Virgin Islands Department of Health confirmed
the presence of the Delta variant in the territory and reported a 15% increase in positive cases.
Additionally, the Department of Health reported that hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is now at
the highest since the onset of the global pandemic.

Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory announced today that the Legislature has updated its
COVID-19 protocols. Effective Monday, August 2, 2021, all in-person testimony is suspended
until further notice. “Due to the serious health hazard and high transmissibility of Delta variant,
this suspension is warranted,” said Frett-Gregory. Additionally, visitors to all legislative buildings
and facilities must present their vaccination card or negative COVID test taken no more than 72-
hours in advance of their visit.

There have been several positive cases in the St. Croix Legislature Building, hence out of an
abundance of caution, the St. Croix Legislature Building will be closed on Monday, August 2,
2021, to permit for the testing of all employees and the sanitizing of the building. The St. Thomas
and St. John Legislative Buildings will be open as usual for business on Monday, August 2, 2021.
“To ensure the safety of Senators and staff, the Legislature is currently working on additional
protocols which are scheduled to be completed by week’s end,” stated Frett-Gregory. “I continue
to encourage all unvaccinated persons to consider getting vaccinated and to adhere to the safety
protocols issued by the Virgin Islands Department of Health.”

34th Legislature Introduces Legislation for Transparency and Accountability of Federal Relief Funds

St. Thomas, USVI – Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory announced today that the 34th Legislature will be considering legislation at the next Legislative Session to track and oversee federal relief funds allocated to the territory. Bill No. 34-0073 offered by Senator Frett-Gregory and 9 of her colleagues requires the Governor of the Virgin Islands to obtain approval for spending the over $600 million dollars in federal relief funds allocated to the territory and to provide the community with a detailed accounting of the funds.

With this bill, the 34th Legislature joins states and territories across the nation in enacting legislation to determine how best to utilize federal relief funds collaboratively. Senators today echoed each other in indicating that the Virgin Islands is no different from those states and territories that have enacted legislation, and exercised their oversight responsibilities to ensure accountability and transparency. The members assert that the Legislature should be involved to make certain that the funds are getting down to the people of the Virgin Islands.

Identifying infrastructure projects, rebuilding and stabilizing our economy, and identifying methods in which to assist Virgin Islanders are just some of the areas that the sponsors identify as immediate needs to address with the federal relief funds. “Just recently, the Legislature’s Committee of the Whole heard from the Governor’s Financial Team and the consensus was one of general concern,” stated Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory. “The enactment of this legislation puts a mechanism and a structure in place for both branches of government to work to meet the needs of our community, and effectuate positive results.” Frett-Gregory thanked her colleagues for immediately seeing the value and importance of legislation of this nature.
The Legislature of the Virgin Islands will convene in Legislative Session on August 3, 2021 at 10:00 a.m., in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers.

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DHS DEFENDS FY2022 PROPOSED BUDGET

St. Croix–The Committee on Finance, Chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, received testimony on the FY 2022 Executive Budget from the Department of Human Services (DHS) on Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.

Kimberley Causey-Gomez, Commissioner of DHS, said the DHS has a multifaceted FY 2022 budget of $369,300,475.25, including federal multi-year grants, ending as far as 2025. DHS is expected to receive federal funding in the amount of $291,676,866.25.

She pointed out that this budget reflects a General Fund Budget of $75,085,610, increasing by 31-percent from Fiscal Year 2021. The breakdowns are distributed as: Personnel- $22,867,346, Fringe- $10,343,549, Supplies- $856,777, Other Services and Charges- 38,841,438, Utility-$2,127,000, and Capital Outlay- $49,500.

Their programs, she added, include (1) Energy Crisis- $1,100,000; (2) Homemakers- $125,000; (3) Centennials- $25,000, and (4) Mission Outreach- $20,000. These programs are included in the $75,085,610 and reflects a total of $1,270,000.

According to the Commissioner, additionally, DOH receives Non-appropriated Special Funds for $2,538,000 including Pharmaceutical Assistance Program- $1,750,000; Senior Citizens Center Fund- $500,000; and Homes for the Aged Revolving Fund-$288,000.

The Commissioner pointed out that the Division of Family Assistance (DFA) has the lowest number of staff in over a decade, distributed $52,940,909 in benefits to qualified persons from October 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021. The program distributed (1) Regular SNAP and Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance-$50,674,656. (2) (Cash Assistance TANF Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled General Asst-$1,553,634; and (3) Energy Assistance: Electrical Bills and Cooking Gas-$712,619).

She pointed out that the DHS is not a revenue-generating entity for the Virgin Islands. Just through food, cash, and energy benefits distributed by the Division of Family Assistance, over $70 million is added to the economy.

Causey-Gomez said the Virgin Islands Medicaid Program is one of the most essential publicly funded health insurance programs for low-income persons in the Territory. Medicaid provides access to quality health care for approximately 33,500.00 members. In FY 2021, DHS was awarded $129 million in enhanced federal funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

According to the Commissioner, with valuable assistance from the 34th Legislature, which appropriated $407,000 for 32 positions in the FY 2021 Miscellaneous Budget, the DHS moved forward in creating the Medicaid Program Integrity Unit, which will bring them into full compliance with the requirements of the 2019 Public Law Program Integrity Lead.

Regarding the Office of Head Start, she said DHS Head Start has successfully applied for multiple Office of Head Start Disaster Recovery Grants, 11 of which are for major construction projects to provide state-of-the-art environments for the children of the Virgin Islands.
The Territory, she added, has received grants awards for 2 of the 11 major construction applications for $3,764,132. These grants are also a grant award of $3,537,408 to construct and renovate Head Start Playgrounds and $1,749,151 for other program improvement projects.

The last item on the day’s agenda was Bill No. 34-0073, which is an Act relating to the allocations of federal funds designated for the Territory and for other related purposes. Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory in presenting the legislation, termed the proposed Act as a 34th Legislature Bill, which seeks to have accountability and transparency on the expending of the CARES Act Funds. After discussion among senators, the Bill was unanimously approved and forwarded to Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senators in attendance on Monday were: Chairman Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Janelle K. Sarauw, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Marvin A. Blyden, Javan E. James, Alma Francis Heyliger, Milton E. Potter, Samuel Carrión and Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Carla J. Joseph.

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THE SCHNEIDER REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, ST. THOMAS EAST END MEDICAL CENTER AND THE OFFICE OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING DEFENDS FY 2022 BUDGET

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building and received testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Invited testifiers are officials from the Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC), the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corporation (STEEMCC), and the Office of Collective Bargaining.

The Schneider Regional Medical Center Governing Board’s recommendation and approval for the FY 2022 budget total $26.7 million. This is a seven percent increase compared to the budget of FY 2021, according to SRMC Interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Luis Amaro. The FY 2022 budget breakdown of the total expenses of $86,949,509 is as follows: $41,574,560 for personnel services, $14,039,336 for fringe benefits, $12,659,509 for supplies, $4,135,801 for utility services, and $14,540,304 for other services and charges. Dr. Amaro noted that achieving financial solvency for SRMC is a major challenge.

Regarding health and retirement benefits, SRMC is facing difficulties with providing coverage of the increased cost of the employer’s portion. Dr. Amaro stated that the operating budget for SRMC is affected because the employer’s portion of the 3% increase in FY 2020 from 20.5% to 23.5% for the Government Employees Retirement System remains unfunded. The employer’s costs of benefits of $14 million, compared to the total Wages of $42 million, demonstrates that SRMC has a benefit expense rate of 34%. As a result, Dr. Amaro mentioned that attracting new employees and staff retention is adversely impacted due to GERS deductions. Sen. Vialet recommended that SRMC develop a private retirement account to entice employees to work with SRMC. Due to the lack of funding for capital projects, Dr. Amaro indicated that technological upgrades are challenging to keep up with.

The governor’s recommended FY 2022 budget totals $2,924,229 for the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corporation. The overall operating budget totals $11,758,189. The proposed General Fund appropriation represents 25% of the budget, while 64% or $7,539,380 is for program income and 11% or $1,294,580 is for Federal Funds, according to STEEMCC Executive Director Moleto Smith, Jr. Justifying the budget, Smith indicated that the FY 2022 goals are to conclude construction drawings of the new facility, expand the behavioral health program, and to provide training for workforce development. The overall breakdown is as follows: $6,206,086 for personnel salaries, $1,087,994 for employee benefits, $2,061,001 for contracts/consultants, $703,588 for supplies, $37,500 for travel, $25,000 for equipment, and $1,360,020 for administrative and maintenance services.

Separately, the proposed budget for the Office of Collective Bargaining totals $1,199,480, according to OCB Chief Negotiator Joss Springette. The FY 2022 budget breakdown is as follows: $677,546 for personnel services, $316,934 for fringe benefits, $31,000 for equipment and supplies, $164,000 for other services, and $10,000 for utilities. Defending the budget, Springette stated that the funds are needed to fill five vacancies Territory-wide. Presently, OCB has 270 pending cases. Although 52 cases were settled/resolved, Springette indicated that unions filed 95 new cases with OCB.

Senators attending the meeting: Chairman Kurt A. Vialet, Janelle K. Sarauw, Franklin D. Johnson, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Milton E. Potter, and Marvin A. Blyden.                                                                                                                 ###

BILLS ADVANCE TO PROTECT CHILDREN AGAINST CHILD ABUSE, CHILD NEGLECT AND FORCED MARRIAGES  

 ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Milton E. Potter, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building and voted favorably for bills that strengthen the consequences for committing crimes such as child abuse, child neglect, and marriage of a child in the Virgin Islands. Invited testifiers were officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (VIDHS), the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, the Family Resource Center, the Lutheran Social Services, and the Greater Changes. All items approved will be forwarded to the Full Body for further consideration.

Lawmakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0030 that seeks to amend the judicial consent for the marriage of a child, Bill No. 34-0031 to increase penalties for child neglect, and Bill No. 34-0032 to require an abuser of a child to seek counseling. Senator Potter stated that when our families are in crisis, the communities will be in crisis. These are visionary legislation recognizing the value of counseling and its effectiveness over the years. The sponsor of the bills, Senator Javan James, Sr. stated that it has been far too long that our children have been abused, neglected, and forced to marry and it is time to stop these heinous crimes. Similarly, Sen. Novelle Francis, Jr. noted that child marriage not only ends the individual’s childhood but adversely impacts their quality of life. Concurringly, Women’s Coalition of St. Croix Executive Director Clema Lewis, MA mentioned that many forced marriages of underage girls end with them being abused by their mates. There is rarely a case with a positive outcome.

Moreover, Child and Youth Counselor Therapist Cacki Barrett stated that by implementing mandated counseling for perpetrators of child abuse, a centralized focus on treatment and education can be provided to help individuals create a positive family life. Lewis shared that a total of 139 children received counseling who suffered from child abuse on St. Croix. Furthermore, the National Child Advocacy Center estimated that in 2019 at least 78% of children were victimized by parents, 22% of abusers were previously abused, and 98% of victims never became abusers after receiving treatment. Although in support of counseling, in a written statement submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands from VIDHS, Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez requested that counseling should not be mandated because the Family Court Judge ultimately orders case-specific rehabilitative services to the families.

 

Policymakers voted and approved the following:

  • Bill No. 34-0030- An Act amending Title 4, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 172 relating to the Virgin Islands Superior Court’s jurisdiction over children to divest the court of jurisdiction over judicial consent for the marriage of a child. The bill was sponsored by Senator Javan James, Sr.  and co-sponsored by Senator Franklin Johnson.
  • Bill No. 34-0031- An Act amending Title 14, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 24, section 504 relating to the penalties for child neglect to require the convicted person to attend counseling in addition to imprisonment or fine. The bill is sponsored by Senator Javan James, Sr. and co-sponsored by senators Franklin Johnson and Carla Joseph.
  • Bill No. 34-0032- An Act amending Title 14, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 24, section 505 relating to child abuse to require a person who abuses a child to seek counseling. The bill is sponsored by Senator Javan James, Sr.  and co-sponsored by senators Franklin Johnson and Carla Joseph.

 

Senators in attendance: Chairman Milton E. Potter, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Steven D. Payne, Franklin D. Johnson, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Carla J. Joseph.                                                                                    ###

COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE POSTPONED DUE TO TECHINCAL ISSUES

ST. THOMAS—The Committee of the Whole, led by Chairwoman Donna Frett-Gregory, convened at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers on Tuesday to receive testimony on several zoning applications in the St. Croix and St. Thomas/ St. John districts.

 

Due to unforeseen technical interruptions, Chairwoman Frett-Gregory held the Committee in recess and will reconvene at the Call of the Chair. The Legislature of the Virgin Islands apologizes for the interruption on today’s proceedings.

 

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THE VIRGIN ISLANDS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, THE BOARD OF EDUCATION, AND THE CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION BOARD SHARES FY 2022 BUDGET

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building and received testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Invited testifiers are officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE), the Virgin Islands Board of Education (BOE), and the Career and Technical Education Board (CTEB).  

 The governor’s recommendation for the Virgin Islands Department of Education General Fund appropriation totals $184,438,881. In comparison to the FY 2021 budget of $164,570,211, the FY 2022 budget represents a 12% or $19,868,670 increase, according to VIDE Deputy Commissioner of Fiscal and Administrative Services Ava Penn. The FY 2022 budget breakdown is as follows: $105,856,941 or 58% for personnel services, $55,277,961 or 30% for fringe benefits, $12,868,795 or 7% for other services, $5,679,464 or 3% for utilities, $2,443,220 or 1% for supplies, and $2,312,500 or 1% for miscellaneous. Defending the budget, VIDE Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin stated that the major goals for VIDE are to re-imagine the school system which entails planning and providing training for school personnel throughout the year and to fill all vacancies. To date, there are 153 funded vacancies. Out of that, 21 vacancies are for teachers, specifically 14 in the St. Thomas-St. John District and seven in the St. Croix District. Berry-Benjamin indicated that overall, VIDE has 2,188 employees, of which 185 are exempt positions and 2,003 are classified positions.  

 Regarding Federal Funds, an estimated $32,909,539 is anticipated for FY 2022. VIDE Director of Federal Grants Kemo Smith noted that the breakdown is as follows: $27,404,520 received from the United States Department of Education (USED) and $5,350,607.92 from the United States of Agriculture (USDA). Presently, VIDE oversees funding from USED totaling $300,330,233 for sixteen federal grants and $8,124,640.92 for thirteen USDA federal grants. Moreover, Berry-Benjamin added that VIDE received $19,992,337 from the Cares I Education Stabilization Fund and $53,234,881 from the Cares II Education Stabilization Fund.  

 The Career and Technical Education Board Chairman Dr. Michael Francois stated that the governor’s proposed General Fund lumpsum for the FY 2022 budget totals $635,616. The budget represents a 14% or $78,086 increase compared to the FY 2021 budget totaling $557,530. CTEB is not slated to receive Federal Funds. Francois mentioned that some of the goals for FY 2022 are to increase instructor certification by 30%, increase student graduation CTE certifications or licenses by 20%, and improve communications/marketing. Similarly, the Virgin Islands Board of Education Chairman Kyza Callwood indicated that the FY 2022 recommended General Fund lump sum totals $1,937,038. In comparison to FY 2021 budget totaling $1,636,400, this is an increase of 18.37% or $300,638. Thus far, BOE has collected a total of $505,125.13 in student loan repayments as of June 30th.   

Senators attending the meeting: Chairman Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Janelle K. Sarauw, Franklin D. Johnson, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Milton E. Potter, and Marvin A. Blyden.

 

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DOA AND BIT DEFEND FISCAL YEAR 2022 BUDGET REQUEST

St. Croix–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, continued budget hearings on Tuesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.  The Committee considered the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Executive Budget for the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and the Bureau of Information Technology (BIT).

Positive T. A. Nelson, Commissioner of DOA, said the FY 2022 General Budget request for the DOA is $6,282,973. An amount of $4,678,473 appropriated to Personnel and Fringe Benefits. At the same time, $1,444,500 allocated toward Supplies and other Services, including Animal Service Contracts (400,000) and Operational Staff Funds for the Industrial Hemp Program ($357,000).

Commissioner Nelson pointed out that they anticipate receipt of non-appropriated funds from the Agriculture Revolving Fund ($140,000), generated for the sales and services of planting materials such as seeds, seedlings, and trees to the community, and the Tourism Advertising Fund ($1,000,000).

According to Nelson, this will total $1,140,000 in non-appropriated funds for the Fiscal Year 2022. Federal grants funds already awarded, he added, such as the multi-year USDA Specialty Corps Grants, Forest Legacy Grants, Urban Forestry Grants, and other grants, totaling $763,792, giving a total of $8,186,764 in funds available for the Fiscal Year 2022.

Regarding DOA’s FEMA Projects, Nelson said that of DOA’s 37 FEMA projects totaling $6,961,338.85, they successfully drew down $543,166.02 through VITEMA for 16 projects which have been completed, and six (6) project drawdown requests are pending VITEMA approval. According to him, the 15 remaining DOA projects are all obligated and are pending completion or inspection.

Nelson pointed out that the Abattoir on St. Croix has faced several challenges, but they diligently reopened the facility. The Abattoir on St. Thomas, he added, recently completed its structural assessment, which determined it was safe to continue repairing the building.

Furthermore, they are awaiting a detailed scope of work to continue working on this disaster recovery project. Meanwhile, DOA has shipped animals from St. Thomas monthly for slaughter and repaired and upgraded the animal shelter.

The Fiscal Year 2022 budget of $6,282,973, said the Commissioner, is an increase of 38.4-percent compared to the 2021 budget allocation. This gradual increase, he added, helps to advance their mission but is a far cry from what is necessary to achieve their objective to reduce the Territory’s dependency on food imports.

According to him, the majority of the Fiscal Year 2021 operating funds have been used to pay reconstruction of hurricane-damaged buildings, purchase of new equipment, repair and update of the abattoir, adjustments to staff salaries, restoration of wells, cleaning of waterways, relocation of the St. Croix Famer’s market, refurbishing the St. Thomas administrative building, and various other projects.

Rupert Ross, Director of the Bureau of Information Technology(BIT) and Chief Information Officer for the Government of the Virgin Islands, said the budget for the Fiscal Year 2022 is a little over $14.7 million. He added that for the Fiscal Year 2022, a little over $3 million is from the General Fund, and just below $11.7 million is proposed under the Miscellaneous.

According to Ross, the General Fund supports Personnel Services ($1.6 million), Fringe Benefits ($747,000), Supplies ($75,000), Other Services and Charges ($520,000), and Utilities (100,000). The Miscellaneous request supports the Bureau’s management plan to integrate, consolidate, and transform the government’s individual department and agency infrastructure.

The BIT Director pointed out that the Bureau requests $2,343,258.00 for the Fiscal Year 2022 to fund 25 positions—19 positions filled, and six (6) are vacant. He said the request also supports overtime payments and the implementation of salary increases and reclassification initiatives for the Bureau’s existing staff.

BIT’s vacancies, said Ross, include adding a Chief Technology Officer, Program/Project Manager, Project Coordinator, Accounting Analyst, two (2) Network Analysts. Furthermore, of the twenty-five (25) positions, fifteen (15) positions are classified non-union, and ten (10) are exempt. He pointed out that the request also supports overtime payments and the implementation of salary increases and reclassification initiatives for the Bureau’s existing staff.

The BIT Director said the agency could not have achieved the level of success without the support of the Governor, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Finance, Property and Procurement, and the Department of Justice.  Furthermore, BIT would not be successful without the support of the agency collaboration, including but not limited to VITEMA, Division of Personnel, Department of License and Consumer Affairs, Department of Health, Human Services, Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Senators at Tuesday’s hearing were Chairman Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Milton Potter, Carla Joseph, Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Javan James, Sr.,  Samuel Carrion, and Novelle Francis, Jr.

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VIBE AND VIDOE READINESS FOR THE 2021-2022 SCHOOL YEAR

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St. Croix–The Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Genevieve Whitaker, held a public hearing on Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix, with the Board of Education (VIBE) and the V.I. Department of Education (VIDOE).

The purpose of the hearing with VIBE was to receive testimony on the School’s Management Accountability Report to include School Facility Conditions and Planned Improvements (School Maintenance) as it is related to the Virgin Islands Code.

With the VIDOE, the Committee wanted testimony on the implementation of the Government of the Virgin Islands Professional Services contract and the Skills for today’s workforce development award.

Kyza A. Callwood, Chairman, VIBE, said upon consultation with the Commissioner of Education, a pre-condition to reopening schools and the reinstatement of in-person instruction was conducted upon consultation with the Department of Labor (OSHA) and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The purpose of these inspections was to determine the environmental safety of the territories’ schools.

According to Callwood, in early February 2021, the Board’s School Plants and Facilities committee conducted several St. Croix district school walkthroughs and discussed its finding, issues, and concerns with VIDOE.

Callwood said that the Board issued a certification of the reopening of the following elementary schools: Pearl B. Larsen, Juanita Gardine, Lew Muckle, Alfredo Andrews, Eulalie R. Rivera, Ricardo Richards, Claude O. Markoe and Arthur A. Richards Junior High which is located at St. Croix Educational Complex.

In late February 2021, he added that the School Plants and Facilities (SPF) committee made a concerted effort to conduct school walkthroughs in the St. Thomas/St. John district. She pointed out that scheduling conflicts, the Committee visited Ulla Muller Elementary, Jane E. Tuitt Elementary, Lockhart Elementary, Joseph Sibilly Elementary, Yvonne Milliner-Bowsky, and Joseph Gomez Elementary. After subsequent discussions with the Department regarding their findings, issues, and concerns, a resolution number was issued.

Callwood said some of the Board’s concerns for curriculum and student instruction were: (1)Based upon the Principals’ reporting, the VIBE recommends more sustainable support for the Department’s maintenance division through line-item budgeting and identified ongoing financial sourcing,(2) Conduct a financial audit of the VIDOE for VIBE’s review in areas of maintenance and student achievement, (3) For reporting of the 2021-2022 school year, the Department must convene an interagency meeting for stakeholder input on the reopening plan which must be provided to VIBE by July 15, 2021, and (4) Incomplete curriculum framework, scope, and sequence for the following subject: VI History, Cultural Education, Physical Education, Agriculture, and Health.
Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner, VIDOE, said for the 2021-2022 school year, the Department will operate in-person, the GREEN Phase, of its reopening of the school plan. She pointed out that if a student, class, or school experiences COVID-19 symptoms, that specific student, class, or school would revert to 100-percent virtual (RED PHASE) or a hybrid, where applicable until the Department clears every one being of good health to in-person learning.

According to Berry-Benjamin, VIDOE has equipped its schools with the necessary technology to seamlessly move from in-person operations to virtual/hybrid processes when necessary. All students needing a laptop computer or MiFi internet device will be issued these items when school reopens.

The Commissioner pointed out that the Department will continue to serve breakfast and lunch for all students in the following manner: (1) Students in grades PreK-3 will receive covered breakfast and lunch in their classroom; (2) Students in grades 4-12 will receive covered breakfast and lunch at a designated area on campus in a grab-and-go format; (3) Cafeterias will remain closed to avoid large crowds congregating; and (4) Parents/guardians of students enrolled in the virtual pilot program may pick up meals at the school nearest to their homes.

She added that school bus transportation would operate as follows: (1) School bus transportation will resume across the Territory; (2) Students are required to wear a mask at all times while being transported on the school bus; (3) Under guidance from the Department of Health (VIDOH), students may sit two to a seat on school buses; (4) The VIDOH will conduct regular visits to bus stops to ensure regulations are followed; and (5) School bus drivers are required to wear masks.

The Commissioner added that the Arthur A. Richards K-8 school is a real-time example of the changes accruing. She said the current challenges with the modular units are evidence that they are still experiencing the impact of the 2017 hurricanes. The demolition of the original school campus and the Charlotte Amalie Annex in St. Thomas is evidence that work is being done to modernize and build schools in the Territory. At the same time, they continue to maintain and repair aged facilities.

Regarding the Arthur A. Richards school, the following will be implemented: (1) K-6th students will attend Eulalie Rivera Elementary K-8 School and Eulalie uniform is to be worn; (2)7th -8th-grade students will attend John H. Woodson Jr., High (Woodson school uniform is to be worn; and (3) Claude ). Markoe Elementary 6th graders promoted to 7th grade last school year will attend John H. Woodson Jr. High School.

Senators at Monday morning’s hearing were Chairwoman Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Kurt A. Vialet, Kenneth L. Gittens, Milton E. Potter, and Carla J. Joseph.