With schools on St. Croix returning to in-person education on Tuesday, students will see some traditional sights, such as uniforms, and some changes, including shorter days and no buses for most students, Superintendent Carlos McGregor said.
Students in pre-K and first grade, special education and career and technical education second- and fourth-year certification students, are expected to begin in-person learning on Tuesday, March 2. Students in second and third grade will resume in-person learning on March 9.
A full schedule of times and regulations is online here.
During a phone interview on Saturday, McGregor outlined expectations for the reopening of the schools.
One of the changes that parents and students will encounter is shorter school days. Before the pandemic, a typical school day consisted of six hours of learning but is now shortened to four hours. “By law, kindergarten to third-grade students must have 4.5 hours of instruction. Looking at our schedule I am able to see that for our district predominantly those hours will be spent,” McGregor said.
During this time period, mathematics, language arts (including reading), social studies and science will be taught. In most cases, what parents and students may not see on the schedule are electives such as physical education, art and music.
“You will not see these subjects on many of the schedules. However, a lot of the school’s plan is to integrate some music and some art in those subject areas as well,” McGregor said.
When students return to school they are expected to be in full uniform. McGregor said the schools will not immediately prohibit a student from attending classes if they are not dressed appropriately.
“We are giving a two-week grace period for parents to have their uniform in order,” McGregor said. “Based on our experience after the hurricanes, a low percentage of children came in color clothes because it is more economic and beneficial for parents to have children in uniform. They are not wondering what they are going to wear and launder, for instance.”
The point of contact for any changes that may occur within the 2020-2021 school year will depend on the extent of the matter, McGregor said.
“If it is a systematic change that affects all the schools in the district, it will come from the office of the superintendent. However, if it is based on the issue of a school decision, parents would receive notice from their school’s principal and staff at the school,” he said.
McGregor said the grades will be separated strategically on each wing of the school.
“For example, we have the kindergarten, first, second and third grade in their own wing. If we have a positive case of COVID-19, in one of the wings then we can focus on doing contact tracing in that specific wing versus the entire school,” he explained.
School bus transportation will be provided to special education students because of their needs. Other students attending school are asked for their parents to drop them off.
“We are on the side of safety,” the superintendent said. “Secondly, many of our schools are right in neighborhoods. We have Eulalie Rivera Elementary school in Grove Place, Lew Muckle in Sion Farm and Ricardo Richards is right in Strawberry. We are hoping for very short drives to school and for extended families to take over, like a grandmother or grandfather.
According to McGregor, the Virgin Islands Department of Education has surveyed the number of students that indicated they will be coming back to school.
“We have 836 out of 1,614 of our pre-K to third-grade students who plan to return, that is 52 percent,” he said. “If we see our numbers are down to 700 then we know that there are 136 students that we are missing.”
The department will then make telephone calls to determine if transportation is the issue.
“If transportation is the issue then we will have to look into other alternatives to get them to school safely. We will be looking into that closely,” he said.
McGregor could not confirm the number of teachers that have received the COVID-19 vaccine but said at some point they plan to have the data. If a student does contract COVID-19, that student will be allowed to continue their lessons at home. If it is a severe case and they cannot attend class all measures will be put into place to provide makeup work.
The Department of Education said that dates for the St. Thomas-St. John District will be announced soon.