Home Commentary Open forum Is It Free Expression or Chaos?

Is It Free Expression or Chaos?

Dear Source:
The opportunity to excel academically and to attend a prestigious university is precious. It is unfortunate though that sometimes V.I. students never get a chance to even earn a high school diploma. Despite the fact that public education is readily accessible in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is often taken for granted and many students are discouraged from completing high school. Therefore, it is unconscionable that students from the St. Croix Educational Complex (SCEC) High School would interrupt their own education because of an infatuation with their principal. Could it be that they are being used as political pawns?
I have listened attentively to both sides of this recent controversy. Students from SCEC walked out of classes for two days to protest the rumored transfer of their principal. Several of them participated in a radio talk program and gave an impassioned plea why their principal should not be transferred. They expressed the same opinion which was not based on solid facts. It was subjective and focused on their personal affection for SCEC principal. They made a preposterous claim that he is the only person in the territory capable of performing the duties of an administrator at SCEC. Do they think that the assistant principals at the same school would not be able to continue his practices and policies? Would they have the same reaction if the assistant principals were being moved to another school?
If the facts are thoroughly examined, it would be easy to see that the SCEC students may be making a mistake. Are they gambling their academic future over an unconfirmed report that their principal is being reassigned to another school? Since being a principal and the inception of SCEC in 1995, he has never been transferred. Most school administrators who have been deemed effective do not remain at the same school indefinitely. Keeping administrators at the same school limits their professional development and potential for positive influences in other schools. Why should this SCEC principal not be willing to assist other students and educational employees?
According to information released from the V.I. Department of Education(DOE), schools in the territory that did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are considered poor performing schools and are placed under greater control. Schools, such as SCEC, require more oversight and support. Strong leadership in terms of improving reading scores is lacking at SCEC .It is evident that the supporters of the protest are not concerned about the reading deficiencies of students in territory. What a shame!
Taxpayers should pay attention to how education funds are spent and how school administrators are reassigned. DOE has an enormous budget and must make decisions that are in the best interest of public education, not just a particular school. It is essential that schools get a principal that emphasizes instruction more than sports or parties.
What is the worst scenario that could occur if a new principal with a different approach takes the helm of SCEC? In my opinion, a new principal should be able to follow successful practices that may have been established at SCEC. Contrary to popular view, SCEC is a school in need of more improvement. The physical conditions of the facility have been neglected, teachers are coerced into collecting fees without an account of how funds are spent, and misconduct of students is not handled in a fair, consistent manner. Do the students fear that a new principal will be more transparent, stricter, more professional? Would such a person be less tolerant and not complacent to allow instructional time to be short-changed?
More importantly, what lessons did the students learn by deliberately missing classes? They should be informed that it is unlawful to disrupt the educational process and there are consequences for their unruly behavior. The U.S. Constitution allows for free expression; however, it does not mean students have the right to create chaos at their schools. School officials have a responsibility to maintain order and to ensure that the policies of the DOE are properly implemented. Apparently, the present SCEC principal reneged on his responsibility and condoned the defiance of the students. A good education leader would have advised the students to return to their classrooms, so that other students would not be affected by early dismissal of school.
Further, a competent education leader should welcome a smooth transition to another school and accept the challenges of a new assignment. An effective and confident school administrator would not use students as scapegoats. Do the students think that they could intimidate DOE officials into making the decision not to transfer SCEC principal? Disregarding the past practice of DOE and allowing emotions to sway DOE officials would set a dangerous precedence. SCEC principal has an opportunity to prove that he can be successful, regardless of where he is assigned. A change to an elementary school would not be a demotion nor would it result in a reduction in his salary.
My final question is directed to the DOE: Is it worth it to sabotage the education of our children because of a political protest? Sincerely,
Verdel L. Petersen, St. Croix


  1. Dear Source,

    I cannot concur with Mr. Petersen that the SCEC students were duped into protesting the possible transfer of an administrator they have come to admire. Those students were exercising what they perceived to be the right of peaceful assembly to seek redress of a grievance. Their purpose was made abundantly clear by their words and actions and it is unreasonable to assert that they were only pawns in someone else’s game.

    I think that any sensible “adult agitator” would have advised them to hold their protest after school hours. I would guess that that course of action was probably suggested to them when they initiated the protest, but they did not heed the advice. That scenario would be consistent with human nature – high school students can become aroused about things but not always examine all the ramifications of their actions. That’s part of the process of becoming an adult.

    The DOE administration would be making a mistake to punish these students for their protests. At a time when much of the free world is championing the cause of democracy in places like the Mid East where protests are shown on nightly newscasts, it is understandable that these young people would choose to air their feelings as they have. Rather than punish them, I would suggest that it would be more growth-producing to openly examine the whole episode in the light of a civics lesson. Take this opportunity to make lemonade from lemons, so to speak. After all, the purpose of school is to teach the students, not succumb to knee-jerk reactions and levee punishment at every opportunity.

    Finally, I would suggest that it is time the DOE administration came clean about their intentions, if any, of transferring a school administrator who appears to be doing commendable job of reaching the students. Putting the facts are on the table is more likely to engender a positive response than would further recalcitrance or doling out punishments.

    Rich Waugh,
    St. Croix


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here