Fight for justice is not over - territory must fight now for our children
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This is regarding the St. Thomas-St. John Back to School Parents Engagement Conference held Sept. 28 at Sugar Bay Resort.
After all the hoopla and fluff, the reality is that officials preached to the choir, again. Most of the room was filled with Department of Education staff. There were quite a few children being kept in the back, but not many parents or guardians. What was the advertising mechanism used to make parents and guardians aware of this event? Why was that not successful?
What good are surveys filled out by persons not targeted or really affected?
For the record, we find the explanation given on the school lunch, nurse and monitor shortage issues to be hogwash. St. Thomas-St. John Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry said the food meets federal requirements/standards and is nutritious. Not true. While federal authorities have changed what foods our schoolchildren consume to meet obesity-fighting laws, which is a very good thing, they cannot dictate what food commodities or items, we (the state) choose to meet that requirement..
The precooked, preprocessed, bag food is not found in all school districts nationally; and none have to do it by any law!. Once again, our State Office of Special Nutrition chose to go that way on its own volition. They have done so without our foreknowledge, agreement, or condoning. Because of this move, the need for school nurses and monitors is then increased tenfold.
That is why we have created an online petition at: tinyurl.com/viusja and its physical version at the O'Henry Dry Cleaner in Tutu on St. Thomas, next to the new Walgreens.
It is super easy for everyone to get involved because what we are seeing more and more is that V.I. Department of Education is overstaffed and mismanaged, resulting in ineffectiveness, ineptitude and possibly corruption.
School buildings cannot be in proper structural form; monitors are too few to avert fights due to poor supervision; nurses are too few to avert episodes of on-campus illnesses such as those experienced after eating said type of school lunch; all because it is public knowledge that 90 percent of the V.I. Department of Education budget is spent on salaries alone. What good can 10 percent do? Not much.
The sad reality is that our schools are in much needed transition and transformation. We can no longer do things the same and expect the better results we crave and deserve. Today, more than before, parents are emotional but we are not stupid. We know when stuff is out of order.
Many parents have imparted very valuable life lessons to their children, such as "dedicate yourselves to civil rights, and always make time to participate and advocate." Those were powerful marching orders from two activists who fought for our rights in segregated Mississippi - and I tried to do them proud. I spent my formative years and much of my adult life doing my part to carry our movement forward.
Virgin Islands United for Social Justice and Accountability has been blazing the trail for justice for only three years now, and yet, as far as we recognize, the fights of today very closely mirror those for civil rights decades ago. It's as though the U.S. government holds up the American banner only in times of convenience, while knocking down noble efforts for equality.
So we're at a crossroads: We can either go forward or we can go back, and the deciding factor will be whether or not we all follow that good parental advice above.
At the end of the conference, after ironically they had just finished telling us to aim for the stars, one of our representatives was told by a district official: "We should fight what we can win."
No. We would rather stick with the National PTA motto, "Every child; one voice." We should fight for what is necessary: uninhibited education regardless of status.
If you've yet to get involved, now is the time to take that first step.
Get started in the fight for civil and human rights for our children and futures by joining your PTA, the USVI PTSA, and P4HMIOS today; or if you're already a member by renewing your membership and rekindling your activism.
Your Constitutional freedoms are at stake here - your heritage, legacy, and history. That's why we got involved, but it's certainly not the only reason to be involved in these organizations.
Schools are no longer segregated, but with proper nutrition now being a new challenge, a quality education is hardly accessible across the board. And yet proper nutrition is the foundation of all higher learning. We still have yet to figure out what's smart about expecting to meet federally required AYP while shifting to precooked, preprocessed, boil-in-bag foods; or how pizza is a healthy lunch. If we allow the foundation to shatter today, what will we stand on tomorrow? Practices of discrimination in college entrance and chosen career fields are sure to follow.
It's mystifying that millions are once again in danger of losing their right to vote. That may very well be the first sign of our diminishing worth to government!.
So you and us - we - urgently need to be in the thick of each and every one of these issues, starting with the safety of our school-aged children - our future leaders. And safety comes in so many forms:
- Proper nutrition to avert short and long term illnesses, especially in light of our critical shortage of school nurses, and increased insurance premiums among other increased monthly expenses like WAPA and the subsequent higher food costs.
- Proper supervision as pursuant to local and federal laws to avert the need for suspension, expulsion, jail, etc
- Proper infrastructure and maintenance to safeguard our children from personal injury.
- Adequate security to include daytime police patrol to better protect them from obvious susceptibility by anyone opting to pose threat. Our school campuses are too open to the public. Once again, we find the 90 percent of the Department of Education budget spent on salaries alone to be ironically ridiculous.
That's why you should become a member of these three organizations or movements. Soon it will be time for us to pass the mantle of civil rights on to our children, or our grandchildren, or our nieces and nephews. We must pass it along in better shape than when we inherited it, and, for the first time in a long time, that status is not guaranteed. We relaxed too much, so it is time for us to fight again.
Many parents of old understood this when they told their children to dedicate themselves to civil rights, to participate, and to advocate. Today, we are asking everyone to do the same. Make up your mind to join your PTA, the USVI PTSA, and P4HMIOS.
The future needs you now
For more information, email Virgin Islands United for Social Justice and Accountability at email@example.com; visit the organization's Face book page; join the interactive teleconferences every first Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. The next is Sunday to participate, just send an email requesting access code details and the presentation material.
Attend the V.I .Board of Education meeting at 9:30 a.m Oct. 12 at the board office on Seventh-day Adventist Street, St. Thomas. Phone: 340-774-4546. The board's website is myviboe.com; To join the PTA , contact the school principal; to join USVI PTSA, go to firstname.lastname@example.org; to join P4HMIOS, go to email@example.com
- Harriet Mercer is the public relations officer for Virgin Islands United for Social Justice and Accountability