Double-up begins for Complex, Central students


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ST. CROIX - There was some curiosity, some confusion, some concern among parents and a sprinkling of anxiety as well as some excitement among students - and quite a bit of standing around, waiting.

That was the situation mid-day Tuesday at St. Croix Educational Complex as students, their families, teachers and Education Department officials geared up for double sessions.

By the end of the day, students from St. Croix Central High School, from St. Croix Educational Complex and from the Career and Technical Education Center had successfully shared the Complex campus for the first time.

"Overall, I give us a B-plus," St. Croix School Superintendent Gary Molloy said early Tuesday afternoon about the first day of double sessions, as Central students - and quite a few of their parents - were getting orientation on where their classes would be and how things would work.

Some of the parents who brought their children to school on Tuesday and stayed to observe the orientation might not have been so generous with the score - but they were hoping for the best.

"I don't know how it's going to work out," said Phillip Joseph, who brought his sons who attend Central for the afternoon session.

"I can already see the confusion," he said, while standing and waiting amid a sea of Central students gathered under an awning in front of Complex.

With children in elementary school as well, Joseph said it will require a bit of coordination to make things work for their family, but he is able to do it. He was waiting outside Tuesday with his sons for the orientation.

His son Tyrone, a 10th-grader, seemed to be taking the change in stride.

"I don't know how they're going to do it," Tyrone said. "But it don't matter to me, as long as I pass my classes and get out of school."

Central High School has been closed since intermittent noxious odors or fumes sickened dozens of students on March 18, sending more than 30 of them to Luis Hospital for treatment.

It was not the first time that a foul odor at the school had left people feeling unwell. The March 18 incident was the third instance of a foul odor at Central in just more than a month, but the physical reactions on March 18 were by far the most intense.

Officials still are trying to determine the source and composition of the odors or fumes.

On Tuesday, a fairly large group of Central students already had gathered under the awning in front of Complex by noon, waiting for classes to start.

Under the double-session plan, Complex students start classes at 7:30 a.m., and Central students start classes at 1 p.m.

"I think it's kind of cool that we're here, but at the same time, I want to go back to Central," said freshman Jeneisha Hamid.

"I miss the old campus," Angelina Lang, a Central freshman, said as she waited. "I can tell I might get lost already."

Police had a strong presence on campus for the first day of double sessions.

Molloy said that regular school security officers for both schools were present, plus some police supervisors were on-site to evaluate the situation and make suggestions for improvements.

Some students found the police presence a little disconcerting.

"Our concerns really are where exactly are our classes, and the bus. The bus could drive off without us, that's a big concern," said Yolanda Felix-Medina, a Central 11th-grader.

She also took notice of the police presence.

"I think that's kind of scary," she said. "It's a lot of cops."

Yolanda said she was sickened during the March 18 incident at Central.

She would like to return to Central - but only if it is safe, she said.

As the morning session ended, some Complex students stood by the fence, watching the Central students gather out front.

V.I. Education officials have worked it out so that Complex students leave out the back way before Central students are allowed in the gate.

St. Croix Federation of Teachers President Rosa Soto-Thomas said things were going "smoothly."

"So far, so good," she said.

However, Soto-Thomas said she still has concerns about how the situation is affecting some of her union members.

For instance, she said, some teachers and paraprofessionals who now have to be on campus earlier or later, depending on which school they work for, have children in other schools and have to deal with arranging - and paying for - child care.

Because of low salaries, some also have second jobs that have been impacted, she said.

Others are enrolled in classes sponsored by the Education Department at the University of the Virgin Islands in the late afternoon and may not be able to complete the courses, according to Soto-Thomas.

"I am hoping the department works with them," she said.

By early afternoon, Molloy said that "for the most part, the transition went well."

"We just need to make sure that we stay very vigilant," he said.

Central High School PTSA Vice-President Daren Stevens, in the auditorium as students were getting orientation, said he came to make sure everything went as planned.

"It's the first day," Stevens said. "There may be some adjustments, some tweaks needed."

However, he said he is glad to have his daughter back in school.

"I think it's workable," Stevens said of the double sessions. "We don't have a choice. Our children need the education. That's the bottom line."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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