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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 17, 2024


Despite a strike by teachers and support staff that has essentially shut down public schools, Education Department officials maintain that classes are being held.
"Schools are open and there is instruction taking place in the classroom," Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said Thursday, a day after the vast majority of the 1,200 members of the territory’s two American Federation of Teachers chapters walked off the job because of a contract dispute.
Simmonds said that principals and other administrators, along with a few teachers, have reported to work in support of her mandate to keep schools open. June Archibald, the department’s spokeswoman, said she couldn’t specify how many teachers have actually reported to work. Nor could she say how many of the 20,000-plus students have shown up for classes.
But whatever the numbers, an effort is being made to hold classes for the students who do show up to school, she said.
"If we didn’t open the schools, then we would have essentially locked people out," said Archibald. "You do have some teachers who are crossing the picket line and they are corralling the students who do come in."
Simmonds said department administrators haven’t been pressed into action in the classrooms because there aren’t enough to make an impact. Because of the tenuous situation, she said parents should monitor the situation before they send their children to school.
"The number of exempt persons in the department aren’t sufficient to man the schools," she said, despite the fact that many parents "are keeping their children home because it’s safer."
"My advice to parents is to assess the situation. If there is access and a principal, then parents can make a decision."
Simmonds and Archibald said they were hopeful the strike would end as a result of Gov. Charles Turnbull’s call for the Senate to meet in a special session Friday to consider legislation that would identify funds to bring public school teachers' salaries on step.
At issue is the union's rejection of a tentative wage agreement that called on the teachers to forgo half of retroactive wages in exchange for an increase totaling about $8 million.
"I remain cautiously optimistic that something good will come out of the session," Archibald said.

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