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Protest At High School Continues, Meeting Called

Oct. 21, 2004 — Students arriving at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Thursday morning were turned away at the gates as the faculty and staff continued a protest that began Wednesday.
Classes had been canceled Wednesday as the school's teachers and staff joined principal Sharon McCollum-Rogers in a protest against Territorial Court Judge Leon Kendall's decision on Tuesday ordering the school to allow a 17-year-old student, who had been in trouble with the law and had, reportedly, repeatedly broken school rules and regulations, to resume classes at Kean. Kendall would not comment on the matter Thursday, saying it was still before him.
When the young man showed up on the school grounds Wednesday with his mother, Rogers relinquished her duties as principal and said she would not return until the situation was resolved. Rogers did not return calls from the Source.
"Unfortunately, we have a continued job action so classes have been delayed," acting principal Leon Trotman said Thursday.
Students who showed up for classes Thursday were given a letter to the parents informing them of an emergency Parent Teacher Student Association meeting at 6 p.m. on the school grounds. Students were also asked to sign a petition, drafted by several 12th graders, in support of Rogers' action.
About 75 faculty and staff showed up for work and held a staff meeting for most of the day, although a release from the Education Department stated that the school was closed because of low-teacher attendance.
On Wednesday, Kean's faculty and staff had written to Gov. Charles Turnbull, who was off-island, requesting a meeting with him at 10 a.m. Thursday to try and resolve the matter.
In the letter, the group made three recommendations to resolve the issue:
– The Education Department should immediately seek a temporary injunction of Kendall's decision and simultaneously file an appeal of said decision.
– Turnbull needs to bring the full power of his office to bear in order to have the appeal heard expeditiously.
– The student must be examined by competent personnel to determine if Kean is an appropriate setting for him.
However, the faculty and staff did not hear from Turnbull's office, Trotman said. He added that the teachers were still trying to decide if they would show up for classes Friday.
"We're going to do this as a day-to-day operation until this matter is resolved," Trotman said. "The young man does need to be educated, but Kean is not the best place for him."
Trotman said the young man had a habit of violating the school's regulations, adding when he came to school Wednesday he appeared out of uniform, which is against school policy. Trotman said the faculty and staff did not attend to him because of this.
Kean's 970 students, meanwhile, have missed another two days of school because of the situation. Since the semester began, the territory's students have missed several days of school because of bad weather due to storms and hurricanes.
Trotman said students have expressed their desire to resume classes. However, he said, "You have to maintain order for the kids to feel comfortable in their learning environment."
Karim Languedoc, a sophomore at Kean, said Thursday he was in support of his principal's and teachers' actions.
"I think that what the principal and the teachers are doing is right because they care for the safety of the students, and the only way for them to be heard is to go through with what they're doing now," Languedoc said. "There's a lot of parents supporting them and also a lot of students."
Languedoc said he signed the petition in support of Rogers.
"Despite what other people think, I thing she's a very good principal," Languedoc said.
Alexandra Samuel, parent of another sophomore at Kean, said she is also in support of the action even though her daughter has now missed two days of school.
"I understand that it is a bit of a setback for the other students," Samuel said, but added the main issue right now is their safety.
Samuel's daughter said she understands why her teachers are having the job action, but said "closing the school down because of one student" was perhaps not the best way.
In a release issued Thursday, Sen. Ronald Russell expressed his concerns about Kendall's ruling.
"The judge's ruling undermines the authority of the principal and promotes a lack of respect for authority and destabilizes the school environment," Russell said. He added the Education Department should have the authority to decide what schools students go to.
In a similar ruling, Kendall had sentenced 23-year-old Nashibo George to attend the University of the Virgin Islands. (See "Defendant in First School Killing Sentenced to College").
Calls to Education Commissioner Noreen Michael and the governor's spokesman, James O'Bryan, were not returned.
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