V.I. school year will start 2 weeks early next fall

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Education Department has figured out a way to implement the new school calendar for next year - which will start two weeks early - without legislation.

To ensure the instructional hours are met and the teachers are not short-changed their vacation and professional development days, the department plans to add two weeks of vacation time into the school year, according to the commissioner.

"The shortened summer break will be made up during the Christmas and Carnival breaks," Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory told senators at a hearing earlier this month.

This week, she said she currently is working with staff to finalize the calendar for the 2014-2015 school year. It will comply with the new mandate to start school two weeks early and meet the required 1,080 hours of instructional time that is mandated by the Virgin Islands Code, according to Frett-Gregory.

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 have to 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.

Frett-Gregory said it will 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 several said they had their own ideas to help.

However, at a Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee meeting earlier this month, Frett-Gregory said she did not need legislation, that she could solve the problem on her own.

This week, she said the department has been meeting with union leaders to develop the 2014-2015 calendar in accordance with the existing law.

The final details are not worked out, but Frett-Gregory said the school year will start Aug. 11, and the first semester will end Dec. 23, just before the Christmas break. The school year will end June 5.

"As the Department continues to improve upon its standards within the curriculum, it is important that our students are adequately prepared and it is important that our teachers are ready to empower them for success. This calendar, with the professional development days and set number of instructional hours, aims to do just that," Frett-Gregory said in a prepared statement.

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

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