Oct. 4, 2006 — While the territory's schools are seeing a reduction in vandalism and break-ins due to the installation of electronic surveillance equipment, Department of Education and Board of Education representatives said Wednesday that they are still concerned about incidents of violence occurring among students.
During an Education, Culture and Youth Committee meeting, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael explained that inadequate lighting and overgrown shrubbery make it difficult to notice "perpetrators" coming onto campus.
She also said that weapons continue to "infiltrate" into the schools despite efforts made to conduct random weapons checks and to increase the presence of school monitors and police officers.
"In the past, detectors were used to monitor students. However, in recent months, this practice has been aborted due to the amount of time it took to scan students," she said.
Michael specifically addressed challenges faced at Ulla F. Muller Elementary School on St. Thomas, which she said experiences "frequent break-ins."
"We have made a concerted effort to address the challenges at Muller, including speaking with the police and asking for their intervention," she said. After the meeting, Michael attributed the crimes to "activities" conducted in the area surrounding the school, which is home to "several bars."
Michael said the department has also installed fencing around 95 percent of the territory's public school campuses. However, she also said that in some instances, the fencing is damaged, which gives outsiders a point of entry.
The idea of fencing public school campuses raised concerns for Sen. Louis P. Hill, who asked Michael whether the department has to turn schools into "mini-prisons" to ensure student safety.
In response, Michael stressed the idea of creating boundaries to prohibit outside access to school campuses. She said that outside "loiterers" prey on students and get them to "incite riots or fights" or sell drugs.
"The community is at a place where we hold almost nothing sacred," she said. "It's really a tragedy."
Michael added that the department is trying to work on the challenges "systematically," by hiring, training and properly equipping school monitors. However, she also encouraged community members to "get together" and "commit" to reducing the violence in schools.
"We have not placed the right emphasis on maintaining a secure environment for our students," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the committee's chair, added. "If we say that education is really important, we have to act. We all have a role to play in securing our schools."
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Malone and Ronald E. Russell.
Noncommittee members Sens. Lorraine L. Berry and Norman Jn Baptiste were also present.
Sen. Neville James was absent.
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