Sibilly class left without teacher, desks or chairs
Published: September 5, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Children returned to school Tuesday ready to learn, but some are still waiting for a teacher.
One of Sibilly Elementary School's sixth-grade classes found they had an empty classroom - no desks and no chairs as well as no teacher.
Many other schools began the year with substitute teachers in classrooms.
A number of schools began the year with no nurses on staff.
At Sibilly School, parent Diane Magras-Urena was furious Tuesday morning.
"I get here today, and they tell me there's not a chair or a desk for the sixth grade," she said. "It's ridiculous."
The same class was without a teacher as well.
"The substitute called this morning to say that she couldn't come," St. Thomas-St. John District Superintendent Janette Smith-Barry said Tuesday while visiting the Sibilly campus.
Magras-Urena said she was told the substitute teacher was Christina Lee, who is running for Senate. According to the V.I. Code, government employees must take a leave of absence if they are running for public office.
Lee said she is a contractor for the Department of Education and does not know if she is considered a government employee under the law, but she did not want to take any chances.
She said she offered to teach the class without pay, but was told that it still could be a potential conflict of interest to have a political candidate working on government property.
"I was ready to go," she said. "But I'm not into breaking the rules."
Smith-Barry said the position has been vacant for several months, but a hiring freeze has prevented hiring a permanent replacement for the class. She got permission to hire a replacement three weeks ago, and the department is processing a new teacher for the class now, along with several other individuals who will be hired to fill a number of vacancies at the territory's schools.
At the end of the school year, the department had enough elementary school teachers to fill vacancies through reassignments, according to Smith-Barry. However, during the summer a number of resignations came in that left the department needing to make last-minute hires.
"We still ended up not covering a few," she said. "We started to hire a few weeks ago, but there's a process. But in the meantime, we have substitute teachers."
Smith-Barry could not say why the classroom had no desks and chairs for the students. They were delivered by the end of the day.
At Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, Idetha Selkridge, the mother of a seventh-grader, was upset to learn that the school did not have a school nurse on campus. Her daughter has epilepsy, and she wanted to discuss that with the school's nurse before the school year began.
"They say they haven't seen the nurse for the whole week," Selkridge said. "This is crazy."
Education spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said the department is experiencing a school nurse shortage because of retirements and resignations. "At this time in the St. Thomas-St. John District, Charlotte Amalie High School, Addelita Cancryn Junior High, Ivanna Eudora Kean, Jane E. Tuitt and Leonard Dober Elementary Schools, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and Yvonne Milliner-Bowsky Elementary are without nurses," Pancham said in a written statement. "Most of these schools, however, have been using qualified staff members or retired nurses to fill in while the department actively continues to recruit candidates for these positions."
Smith-Barry said she was unaware the Cancryn nurse was absent.
Pancham said the nurse at Cancryn had indicated she would be leaving in January 2013 but informed the department Tuesday that she would not be returning this school year.
Smith-Barry said it is hard to fill the school nurse positions.
"We can't get enough applicants for nurses," Smith-Barry said.
Overall, in both districts, the department was pleased with the opening of the school year, according to Pancham.
"According to both superintendents, there were minimal first-day-of-school issues, many of which were quickly addressed, and others that will continue to be resolved over the next few weeks," Pancham said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.