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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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'Crunch Time' for Central High

It’s "crunch time" for officials working to restart St. Croix Central High School classes, Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said Tuesday, vowing the school will be back in session in a week.

Whether that means the Central High campus will be reopened or whether classes will move to St. Croix Education Complex isn’t known yet, but the commissioner said that should be decided by Friday and urged parents to help keep their children focused on academics during the interim.

"We anticipate receiving a definite confirmation by Friday about whether we are able to get this done, and my chief concern, even if the problem is fixed, is making sure our students and staff feel comfortable and safe on the campus. We continue to dedicate all resources possible to making this happen," she said.

If investigators find and neutralize the source of the odor that has closed the campus, classes will resume there Tuesday. Otherwise, the Department of Education is working on a plan to split the school day at Complex so that both student bodies can attend in that location. That is not the preferred option, Frett-Gregory added.

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"It is our hope that we will be able to resume classes on the Central High School campus come Tuesday – this way, we will not have to displace two rather large high schools, inconveniencing not only the students, but their parents and the schools’ staff."

But she recognized that might not be possible and said her staff is working to be ready for either eventuality.

"If returning to Central is not an option, however, the department does have a detailed plan for conducting double sessions between the Central High and Complex classes and has spent every waking hour exploring the options and working out logistics," Frett-Gregory said. "We are asking parents to bear with us during this time because, when we make that decision, we want to be sure that it is done in the best interest of all the students, our teachers and staff.

Until classes resume Tuesday, she called on Central parents to keep their children on track with their studies.

"So, right now it is crunch time and we need our parents and students on board as we continue to move forward," she said. "On our side, we recognize the importance of working with our unions on a plan to make up these lost instructional days, and keeping our parents informed of upcoming testing dates. We are also asking our parents to help us at home by keeping students on track with their assignments. To help with this process, we have made copies of the students’ textbooks available at both public libraries and have also partnered with viNGN to make their public computer sites available for those students who may not have Internet at home.”

Frett-Gregory advised parents to check the Education Department website at www.vide.vi and its Facebook page for updates.

Central High School was closed March 18 following the sporadic outbreak of a foul odor that caused the school day to be curtailed on several occasions. After the March 18 outbreak, 35 students and faculty members were treated at the hospital emergency room.

Since then, investigators have been seeking the cause of the odor while Department of Education officials worked on the contingency plan. A team from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency flew to the island over the weekend and announced Monday that they had narrowed the likely source down to an old sewer system that had two manholes on the campus.

Frett-Gregory issued the statement after Monday’s community meeting, at which parents and students protested about the delay. The commissioner said she understood their concerns.

"It is regrettable that last night’s parent meeting … ended in such an uproar," Frett-Gregory said. "While we understand the concern aired by our students and parents, the impression was left that the department does not have a plan nor is it concerned that students will be out of class until Tuesday. That is not the case."

The commissioner said she and her staff are "unwavering in support" for the students, staff and faculty of the school and that their health and safety the top priority.

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It's "crunch time" for officials working to restart St. Croix Central High School classes, Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said Tuesday, vowing the school will be back in session in a week.

Whether that means the Central High campus will be reopened or whether classes will move to St. Croix Education Complex isn't known yet, but the commissioner said that should be decided by Friday and urged parents to help keep their children focused on academics during the interim.

"We anticipate receiving a definite confirmation by Friday about whether we are able to get this done, and my chief concern, even if the problem is fixed, is making sure our students and staff feel comfortable and safe on the campus. We continue to dedicate all resources possible to making this happen," she said.

If investigators find and neutralize the source of the odor that has closed the campus, classes will resume there Tuesday. Otherwise, the Department of Education is working on a plan to split the school day at Complex so that both student bodies can attend in that location. That is not the preferred option, Frett-Gregory added.

"It is our hope that we will be able to resume classes on the Central High School campus come Tuesday – this way, we will not have to displace two rather large high schools, inconveniencing not only the students, but their parents and the schools’ staff."

But she recognized that might not be possible and said her staff is working to be ready for either eventuality.

"If returning to Central is not an option, however, the department does have a detailed plan for conducting double sessions between the Central High and Complex classes and has spent every waking hour exploring the options and working out logistics," Frett-Gregory said. "We are asking parents to bear with us during this time because, when we make that decision, we want to be sure that it is done in the best interest of all the students, our teachers and staff.

Until classes resume Tuesday, she called on Central parents to keep their children on track with their studies.

"So, right now it is crunch time and we need our parents and students on board as we continue to move forward," she said. "On our side, we recognize the importance of working with our unions on a plan to make up these lost instructional days, and keeping our parents informed of upcoming testing dates. We are also asking our parents to help us at home by keeping students on track with their assignments. To help with this process, we have made copies of the students’ textbooks available at both public libraries and have also partnered with viNGN to make their public computer sites available for those students who may not have Internet at home.”

Frett-Gregory advised parents to check the Education Department website at www.vide.vi and its Facebook page for updates.

Central High School was closed March 18 following the sporadic outbreak of a foul odor that caused the school day to be curtailed on several occasions. After the March 18 outbreak, 35 students and faculty members were treated at the hospital emergency room.

Since then, investigators have been seeking the cause of the odor while Department of Education officials worked on the contingency plan. A team from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency flew to the island over the weekend and announced Monday that they had narrowed the likely source down to an old sewer system that had two manholes on the campus.

Frett-Gregory issued the statement after Monday's community meeting, at which parents and students protested about the delay. The commissioner said she understood their concerns.

"It is regrettable that last night's parent meeting ... ended in such an uproar," Frett-Gregory said. "While we understand the concern aired by our students and parents, the impression was left that the department does not have a plan nor is it concerned that students will be out of class until Tuesday. That is not the case."

The commissioner said she and her staff are "unwavering in support" for the students, staff and faculty of the school and that their health and safety the top priority.