April 20, 2006 – Discussion on a bill to increases the physical education requirements for elementary school students in the territory turned personal during Thursday's full Senate session, as Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville accused Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson of calling him obese.
Figueroa-Serville said that Nelson had been making "personal comments" about his weight over the last two days and implied Thursday that Figueroa-Serville was extremely overweight.
Nelson was made to apologize by Senate President Lorraine L. Berry for his remarks, which are in violation of Senate rules prohibiting senators from making personal attacks against one another.
However, after Nelson said he's "sorry for inferring" that Figueroa-Serville was obese, he added, "however since the Legislature began, you have put on some weight and that needs to be managed."
Berry cut Nelson off by saying that his remarks were not an apology.
On a more serious note, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, the bill's sponsor, likened the bill to a caterpillar that senators were trying to kill "before it became a butterfly," because the bill had previously stirred up concerns from Education Department and Board of Education officials.
In response, senators said they had their own concerns about the bill–which initially stipulated that students in grades nine through 12 are required to take four years of P.E. in order to graduate – because it would lengthen the school day for students and adversely affect those who are already struggling to balance their academic and vocational requirements.
To address these concerns, Jn Baptiste introduced an amendment in the nature of a substitute – which first appeared on the floor of a recent Rules Committee meeting on St. Croix – which transfers the requirement from the high school level to the elementary level and introduces a nutritional component to prohibit the sale of unhealthy snacks in the territory's public schools.
Most senators supported the bill and voted to approve the new amendment, saying that it would help address obesity problems in young children, along with the proliferation of Type 2 diabetes in adolescents–problems which, they said, are plaguing students both locally and nationally.
Among other things, the bill, as amended, requires:
–all students in kindergarten through sixth grade must be provided a minimum of 150 minutes of physical education and physical activity per week.
–a student's fitness status be reported to the student's parent or guardian during their fifth grade, eighth grade, and high school P.E. courses.
–each elementary school to designate a P.E. teacher to plan and coordinate opportunities for additional physical activity for students that exceed the designated weekly physical instruction times and annually submit a report to the principal outlining additional activities for students.
–the Education Department provide professional development to teachers and volunteers on the importance of physical activity for young children, and the relationship of activity and good nutrition to academic performance and healthy lifestyles.
–Education coordinate a health model for each district designed to address the health issues of children.
–The Education Commissioner establish and maintain a Coordinated School Health Advisory Council in each school district to assess, plan, implement, and monitor district and school health policy programs.
–the Council also determine which snacks and beverages may be sold in vending machines in public schools.
–the Board of Education to establish health and nutrition policies for all public schools designed to limit, regulate, and ensure vending sales and sales of beverages, except on special occasions or cases of emergency.
If signed into law by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, the bill would go into effect at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.
Voting in favor of the bill were Berry, Figueroa-Serville and Nelson, along with Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Usie R. Richards, Ronald E. Russell, and Celestino A. White Sr.
Sen. Liston Davis voted against the bill, while Sen. Craig W. Barshinger abstained, saying that he needed more time to read the amendment.
Senators also approved:
–a 40-year lease agreement between the government and Hill's Plumbing, with two five-year options to renew at a yearly rate of $9,218.
–a 20-year lease agreement between the government and St. John Animal Care Center, with two five-year options to renew at a yearly rate of $5,227.75.
–a 15-year lease agreement between the government and Big D's, with five five-year options to renew at a yearly rate of $30,872 (the agreement is for the operation of a bar and restaurant on the site formerly known as Manno's in the Fort Christian Parking Lot on St. Thomas).
A lease agreement between the government and V.I. Recycling Co. was approved, along with a lease agreement between the government and Walter Seipel and Associates.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone was absent during Thursday's session.
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