Senate repeals changes to school calendar


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ST. THOMAS - Lobbying by the American Federation of Teachers led senators to repeal changes to the school calendar at Wednesday's session.

AFT members filled the chambers Wednesday afternoon, all wearing matching blue T-shirts.

At the start of Wednesday's session, Sen. Clifford Graham special-ordered a bill to the agenda that would have phased in the changes to the school calendar.

However, several hours later, Sen. Janette Millin Young made a motion to reconsider a motion made - and voted down - at a March session.

The motion was to repeal the changes to the school calendar. It passed with eight senators voting in favor of the repeal.

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

The way the year has been structured, students go on break for the holidays and then take their exams when they get back.

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

Education officials said changing the calendar would cost the department about $5.4 million to pay for the extra two weeks of work for unionized teachers, staff and administrators.

After the repeal attempt failed, Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory announced that the department had figured out a way to make the new calendar work.

The shortened summer break would have been made up during the Christmas and Carnival breaks. Frett-Gregory said it would 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.

The teachers union opposed the calendar as proposed by the commissioner, and union members continued to lobby senators to repeal the mandate entirely.

Union leaders said they are not interested in any additional vacation days, but they want to be compensated for the time they will lose.

They also had issues with the number of professional development days included in the calendar.

Vernelle de Lagarde, American Federation of Teachers Local 1825 president in the St. Thomas-St. John District, said she was happy that eight senators came around.

The school calendar task force will have to meet to hammer out a revised calendar in light of the repeal, de Lagarde said.

The union does not see any evidence that the change to the calendar is necessary, and the union wants to focus its attention on negotiating salaries for teachers, she said.

"It's not something that is necessary at this point in time, especially when you're locked in with not having any money," de Lagarde said.

Senators Craig Barshinger, Donald Cole, Alecia Hansen, Myron Jackson, Shawn-Michael Malone, Clarence Payne III, Tregenza Roach and Millin Young voted in favor. Sen. Kenneth Gittens voted against, and Senators Judi Buckley, Diane Capehart, Graham, Terrence Nelson, Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly and Sammuel Sanes did not vote.

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

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