Education releases 2014-2015 school calendar; unions oppose it


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Education Department released the approved 2014-2015 school calendar, which is in compliance with the V.I. Code but is getting push-back from the unions.

The law to change the school calendar first was passed by the 29th Legislature and mandates the fall semester start two weeks earlier - on Aug. 11 - so that it will end before the Christmas break.

In the past, students go on break for the holidays and then have to take their exams when they get back.

Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory announced last month that to ensure instructional hours are met and that teachers are not shortchanged of their vacation and professional development days during the implementation of a new school calendar, the department plans to add two weeks of vacation time into the school year.

The shortened summer break will be made up during the Christmas and Carnival breaks and will comply with the new mandate to start school two weeks earlier and meet the 1,080 hours of instructional time that is required by the Virgin Islands Code, according to Frett-Gregory.

According to the new calendar, which was approved and signed by Gov. John deJongh Jr. on Monday, the first day of school is Aug. 11 and the first semester ends Dec. 23.

The winter break starts Dec. 24 and typically would end Jan. 6, but the new calendar includes an extra week of "administrative leave."

Students return to school Jan. 14.

In the spring, three days of administrative leave are scheduled from April 28 to April 30, which is Carnival week. May 1 is Children's Parade and school is out.

The last day of school is June 5.

"The department was compelled to identify creative ways of restructuring the calendar in order to be in compliance with the law while taking into consideration unique concerns for this school year," Frett-Gregory said.

DeJongh called the Senate into special session in March to repeal the law, saying the government had no money to implement it.

Frett-Gregory said it would have cost the department about $5.4 million to pay for the extra two weeks of work for unionized teachers, staff and administrators.

Senators voted against the repeal, and the commissioner said she could comply with the law by adding extra vacation time into the school year.

The unions do not support the new calendar.

Vernelle de Lagarde, American Federation of Teachers Local 1825 president in the St. Thomas-St. John District, said the union plans to file a grievance about the calendar and is continuing to pressure senators to reconsider a repeal of the law.

She said under the collective bargaining agreement, professional development days are to be negotiated. Under the current agreement, new teachers get three professional development days and returning teachers get one. In addition, teachers get a day to attend the annual AFT conference.

In the calendar, the only professional development days highlighted are the two in March and April that flank the local holiday of Transfer Day.

De Lagarde said the AFT conference, which is considered a professional development day, typically takes place in October.

The calendar can be changed. De Lagarde said last year the school calendar was changed twice because it contained errors and needed to be corrected.

The AFT is writing to Frett-Gregory seeking a meeting about the calendar, and if that does not go well, the union will file a formal complaint, according to de Lagarde.

"Hopefully it will be resolved," she said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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