DeJongh calls special Senate session to repeal school calendar

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Gov. John deJongh Jr. has called the 30th Legislature into special session on Friday to consider a bill that would repeal two laws pertaining to implementing a revised annual school calendar.

One - section 11 of Act 7369, passed by the 29th Legislature - says the school year must begin no later than the second Tuesday after the second Monday in August; end no later than the first Friday in June; and that the first semester shall end no later than Dec. 23. It does not change the length of the school year overall or increase instructional hours.

The other law that would be repealed - Act 7484 - in the proposed legislation to be considered Friday postponed the implementation of the revised school calendar from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014-2015 school year.

DeJongh vetoed section 11 of Act 7369, but senators overrode the veto and made it law. The idea had been to end the first semester before the Christmas break and Crucian Christmas Carnival.

Teachers unions are against the date changes, saying the move would violate their collective bargaining agreements, and the unions, as well as deJongh, have said that the change will cost $3.1 million to implement.

In his letter dated Tuesday to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone calling the special session, deJongh said that the V.I. Education Department has tried to develop a school calendar that aligns with the dates mandated in the revised law and has the draft document ready for final approval in April.

"However, the department has encountered a number of issues, making its implementation impractical, especially for the next school year," the governor wrote.

Sen. Alicia Hansen had written to deJongh on Monday, asking him to call the special session.

"The school calendar for the 2014-2015 school year has yet to be established which is causing a great deal of anxiety and consternation for students, parents and teachers," she wrote. "It appears that the Department of Education is still struggling to implement the revised school calendar as the department simply does not have the funds to implement it."

She pointed to a variety of issues with the revised calendar and wrote that "it is not worth millions of dollars and all this anxiety to change something that is not broken."

In a written response to a Daily News inquiry, Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said that Hansen and deJongh had discussed the matter.

"Prior to Senator Hansen's letter of Monday and Governor deJongh's call for a Special Session, they both discussed the importance of taking whatever steps were necessary to address the need of implementing a revised school calendar. The governor was keenly aware of the challenges being faced by the Department of Education specifically as regards funding and had warned of such challenges when he vetoed the original legislation," Greaux wrote.

"DeJongh and Hansen's conversation turned to the need to repeal both existing Acts. Senator Hansen was prepared to introduce legislation towards that end; however, both feared that bill process would take considerable time for the legislation to be vetted through the committee process. As such, deJongh opted to fast track the legislation by calling the Senate into Special Session on Friday, a move that Hansen wholeheartedly supported."

The special session is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Friday in Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.

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