Senator Samuel Carrión’s bill to update and strengthen the territory’s Bilingual and English Language Development programs was approved by the 34th Legislature’s Committee on Education and Workforce Development on Tuesday.
Bill No. 34-0154 amends various sections of the Virgin Islands Code in this regard: setting minimum proficiency requirements and requiring a comprehensive plan to support English learners. The measure also sets the foundation for the hiring of qualified ESL teachers, as well as the training of paraprofessionals, school administrators, counselors and other personnel.
Senator Carrión said the bill aims to enhance the 1968 Bilingual Act, adopted locally in 1972.
“It has been 50 years without any substantial revisions to this statute,” Senator Carrión said. “Just as we need new and modern school campuses, we also need to update our education policies and requirements.”
Education Department officials testified that there are a significant number of students that speak Spanish, French Creole and even Arabic as their first language enrolled in local public schools.
“St. Croix and the entire Virgin Islands continues to be a melting pot and it is our duty to ensure that these students have the tools they need to become productive members of this community,” Carrión said. “I want all of our students to be competitive and have the foundation they need to succeed. And it is important our students learn from one another given the increasingly diverse world we live in. This legislation represents progress for us all!”
Officials praised Sen. Carrión’s efforts to improve the Education Department’s English learning programs and made some suggestions to strengthen the bill.
“I thank everyone for their input and support today, especially my colleagues who have joined me in prioritizing this issue. I believe we can make any amendments necessary when this legislation moves to the Rules Committee,” Sen. Carrión said.
Sen. Samuel Carrion, St. Croix