March 6, 2005 — About 75 protesters with placards and a megaphone system lined up across the street from Gertrude's Restaurant Saturday evening heckling partygoers and singing "Happy Birthday" to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The crowd who were protesting conditions at Central High School, shouted, "Get the parking lot fixed! Get the science labs fixed! Get the toilets fixed!" Police kept the traffic flowing but every vehicle that turned into the restaurant parking lot was met with cries of "Shame on you, how can you party when our children are suffering!"
"We are sticking to our action plan," Anne Golden, a CHS parent, said. Referring to Friday night's meeting with the governor and the PTSA, Golden said, "There never was an agreement that the protest would stop, we will not stop until our children get the education they deserve."
Vicky Richards joined the protest line even though she has no children in the public schools. "All my children are grown, but this situation is a shame," Richards said. "Every mother on the island should be here."
The Governor meets with PTSA
On Friday, Turnbull called for a meeting with the PTSA to discuss actions taken by the administration. The unprecedented meeting was attended by Education Department employees and cabinet members including Commissioner Noreen Michael, Terrance T. Joseph, St. Croix district superintendent; Marc Biggs, Property and Procurement commissioner; Wayne Callwood, Public Works commissioner; Louis Hughes, territorial maintenance director; and Kent Moorhead, Central High School principal.
About 150 parents sat on the bleachers in the CHS gymnasium to hear what Turnbull had to say.
Although parents pressed Turnbull to justify why the problems at CHS have taken so long to rectify, the governor refused to rehash the past. "We are here for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to make sure Central High is accredited along with all the other high schools," Turnbull said.
The governor said he issued an order of exigency to speed up the repairs to the ailing high school. That means the bidding process will be cut down from more than a month to two weeks. "We will zero in on areas that Middle States wants to move on right away," Turnbull said. The items first on the list to be addressed are the renovation of the parking lot, the construction of new science labs, the renovation of existing labs, and the installation of "panic" bars on the doors in the music room.
The meeting came on the heels of an emergency meeting called Tuesday by the PTSA where parents and supporters voted overwhelmingly to take to the streets on the night of Turnbull's birthday to protest the ongoing problems at the high school problems they say could prevent Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools from granting accreditation to the school. (See "Parents Plan Actions to Spotlight Education Problems").
Middle States Visit to CHS Postponed
The Middle States Association of Schools was scheduled to make a visit to CHS on March 8; that visit has been postponed indefinitely. On Tuesday, Middle States Associate Director Marianne Keeley will visit and make and assessment of the school. Keeley will then make a recommendation to Middle States and a determination will be made to reschedule the validation team's visit to the school. That determination will be made "before the end of April," according to Michael.
PTSA files suit against the Government
The PTSA has retained attorney Lee Rohn to file a class action suit against the government and the Education Department. Rohn said Saturday that the DOE is in violation of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires school districts to comply with certain criteria in order to be eligible for federal funds. Rohn also pointed out that in 2002 the department was found to be a "high risk grantee" by the by the U.S. Department of Education and was required to take immediate action. The department entered into a compliance agreement to address "recurring deficiencies in the administration of various federally funded programs." (See www.vica.gov.vi for compliance agreement information)
Rohn said the department is in violation of this agreement, too. One of the provisions of the compliance agreement was to revise the bidding process for items submitted on requisition to reduce the time needed to obtain these items. The deadline for compliance of this section was June 30, 2003.
Additionally, Rohn said she is also looking into a Virgin Islands statute which allows the public to file a "private tax payer" action to prevent waste of government funds. Rohn said this statute was instituted because the V.I. does not have an elected attorney general and measures had to be put in place to protect the people.
"We are going to acquire all the needed documents from the school and Middle States," Rohn said. Representatives from the PTSA met with Rohn on Saturday afternoon and another meeting is scheduled for next Saturday. "We are going to set a timetable for the completing all the tasks at the school and monitor the progress," Rohn said. "If the department doesn't agree or if they do not adhere to the timetable then we will ask the federal court to monitor the progress," Rohn said. "This would be a last resort."
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