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Legislature Corner: Almost 10 Years Later, Persistence Sees Corporal Punishment Banned in USVI Schools

During a 2020 legislative session, Sen. Janelle Sarauw urges fellow senators to protect V.I. school children by outlawing corporal punishment in schools. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, V.I. Legislature)

Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw would like to thank her colleagues, testifiers, supporting stakeholders and Gov. Bryan for this significant change to the learning environment of the students in the United States Virgin Islands. Bill number 34-0097, now Act 8516, proposed by Sen. Sarauw, orders the repeal and reenactment of Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 130, relating to authority to discipline pupils in schools; and repealing Title 17, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, subchapter I, section 87, relating to punishment of pupils by school officials.

In 2013, former Sen. Judi Buckley of the 30th Legislature introduced legislation to ban corporal punishment in USVI public schools. Even after moving testimonies and the presentation of data and statistics, the bill failed to pass the Committee on Rules and Judiciary. The legislation, reintroduced in the 31st Legislature by former Senator Nereida O’Reilly, again saw resistance.

Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw first introduced the corporal punishment ban in the 32nd Legislature as part of an omnibus bill [33-0103] coined “The Women, Children and Families Act,” that focused on the holistic care of the family through early detection for children, preventative care, women’s health care initiatives and the ban on corporal punishment in our learning environments, schools.

On session day, however, an amendment introduced by a colleague to remove the corporal punishment component of the bill saw heated debate, as Sen. Sarauw defended her position for

that portion to remain in the bill. The amendment prevailed and Bill No. 33-0103 was passed without the corporal punishment component.

In the 34th Legislature, Sen. Sarauw regrouped, revised and re-introduced the corporal punishment ban as a stand-alone legislation. Testimony was presented by the Department of Education, the Board of Education, former educator and St. Thomas resident Mrs. Christina N. Lee Williams, and Mrs. Nisha de Jean Charles, a licensed clinical social worker and local psychotherapist.

Mrs. de Jean Charles testified that “It is time for a cultural shift where we employ effective disciplinary strategies appropriate to a child’s age and development helping to teach emotional regulation, self-soothing and conflict resolution skills. By doing so, we will help teach children to regulate their own behavior; keep them safe from harm; and enhance their cognitive, socio-emotional and executive functioning skills. We must also provide support and training to educators to help improve classroom management and decrease negative attention/ engagement.

“We must recognize that the practice of inflicting physical pain encourages violence, and it is not separate from the larger community.”

Sen. Sarauw reached out to former Sen. Judi Buckley who stated, “I want to express my sincere gratitude to senators O’Reilly and Sarauw for seeing the importance of this legislation, and specifically to Sen. Sarauw for never giving up on it. This is truly a gamechanger, and I encourage educators and the community to not look at it as something being taken away but an opportunity to utilize proven tools that promote a more positive and dynamic education experience.”

Senator Sarauw stated, “It is times like these, that makes the fight worthwhile,” referring to her having to introduce the bills in both the 33rd and 34th Legislature. “We can no longer ignore the data and science on matters related to our children. This is one of many steps towards recreating environments that are more conducive to learning and healthy relationships. I want to publicly thank former senators Buckley and O’Reilly for their vision and support, as I maintained contact with them both throughout the legislation’s progression. Leadership calls on us to make the right pursuits and decisions, even when they are not popular – I believe we are here for times such as these,” stated Sen. Sarauw.

The United States Virgin Islands now joins 31 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 128 countries by banning corporal punishment in schools.

Editor’s note: Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw is a member of the 34th Legislature of the Virgin Islands.

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