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Kean to Reopen Monday, Justice Files Appeal

Oct. 22, 2004 — Late Friday afternoon, acting Gov. Vargrave Richards announced classes will resume Monday at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. He also said Principal Sharon McCollum-Rogers has agreed to return to the school Monday, after a meeting with her and St. Thomas/St. John Superintendent William Frett on Friday.
In addition the V.I. Justice Department has filed a notice of appeal in the case of the problem student ordered back into the classroom on Tuesday by Judge Leon Kendall.
The notice takes the position that Territorial Court Judge Leon Kendall exceeded his authority in ordering the student back into the classroom. It will ask for an expedited briefing schedule.
Once the notice is filed, both parties are expected to follow up with supporting arguments, facts and relevant legal references.
These developments should quell an escalating situation surrounding the high school, which began with the principal walking off the job in protest on Wednesday, and continued Friday with an estimated 80 percent of the student body – in their school uniforms – along with teachers, parents and other supporters, marching in support of Rogers.
"We shall not be moved," chanted scores of teachers, students and parents as they marched to the houses of government Friday morning in support of their principal and her stance.
The march began in a parking lot near the Lockhart Garden Shopping Center, led down the Charlotte Amalie Waterfront to the Territorial Court, onto the Legislature, uphill to Government House and in front of the Education Department's main building before they ended at Emancipation Garden.
"No Justice, No School!" was the chant taken up as pink and cranberry-clad protestors registered their discontent. The crowd shouted, "Justice corrupted is justice denied," and called for Kendall to be removed from his post as Territorial Court judge.
Friday was the third day students have been out of class since the protest began Wednesday after Rogers walked off the job. She was protesting Kendall's order that would return the 17-year-old student to the classroom. (See "Protest At High School Continues, Meeting Called").
At the time of the march, teachers were saying they were not ready to return to the business of teaching until the principal returned.
"The children's education is our first interest, but we also know that their safety is an issue," Adelaide Gumbs, a Kean administrator said.
Lavida Aberden, a library worker at the school, said Rogers indicated she would not return as long as the young man was slated to attend classes at Kean.
"If Ms. McCollum doesn't come back, we won't come back," Aberden said.
A new development surfaced Friday morning when the mother of the child in question appeared on a radio talk show, saying she would not send her son back to school until the Department of Education addressed her concerns about his welfare while on campus.
"I'm not going to take my child to school unless I get answers as to what took place," Colette Ongla, the boy's mother said. "I need answers. My son needs answers," she said.
Speaking on WVWI-AM radio, the mother said the principal had accused her son of being on drugs. She also said the child was assaulted by a member of the school staff, who doused him with pepper spray, but she was never told why.
The mother said a string of incidents led to her son's Tuesday appearance before Kendall.
School administrators said the student could not be admitted because he did not appear for registration in an acceptable uniform, accompanied by a parent as is required of all students. Protesting teachers said they were concerned that allowing a student to come to school without a uniform would be seen as a signal to other students that school rules could be broken without consequence.
"If we back down the other students will say, and they are already saying it, 'If he can get away with it, why can't we?' and that is where we stand," teacher Icis Benjamin said.
Teachers also expressed concerns about related school disciplinary issues.
One teacher, who had the student in her class, said he slept in class, cut class, never turned in his assignments and failed to appear for the final exam.
"Two days later his mother said he was sick," she said.
Assistant Principal Jubilani Rees said, "I have witnessed the boy exhibiting erratic behavior on the school campus."
Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the Friday morning march as protestors made their way to the houses of the three branches of government.
Senators were not on hand to greet them at the Legislature, but Island Administrator James O'Bryan Jr. appeared on the steps of Government House a few minutes after the protestors arrived, although he did not address their concerns directly.
"They're exercising their right, and they did it in a peaceful manner. It's democracy at work in its truest form," O'Bryan said. "It's unfortunate because we know in the long run every day out of the classroom for children is not a good thing or the purpose of what you would want them to be involved in."
Senatorial candidates Karl R. Caesar, Liston Davis and Alvin Williams joined the march.
"This is my school. I'm part of this family so I have to support it," Caesar, who has taught at Kean, said.
Williams said, "I support their cause. There's no reason that one student should be allowed to disrupt the education process."
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone also met protestors for a brief discussion at the end of the march in Emancipation Garden.
Rees also said he does not believe that the incident has impaired their chances of regaining accreditation.
"We don't see it as affecting the accreditation process," Rees said. "The wheels of the accreditation process are continuing to turn."
Kean, along with Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas and Central High School on St. Croix, lost its accredited status in 2001 and has been seeking reaccreditation. Currently, a Middle States accreditation team is visiting CAHS. Kean will be visited in November.

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