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Saturday, June 22, 2024


A bill aimed at mandating "character education" in public schools failed to make it out of the Senate’s Education Committee on Friday. But education officials say they're already working on a similar program.
The bill, authored by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, sought to establish set times in class and during weekly assemblies where teachers would attempt to instill positive character traits in students in grades K-12. Baptiste’s motion to move the measure out of committee didn’t receive a second and died.
People testifying on the bill had mixed opinions. Some said the lack of character education was the cause of many of the problems confronting educators in the territory. Others said such education was the responsibility of parents.
Glen Smith, president of the St. Thomas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the AFT supports the concept of character education, but said the union was not in favor of another unfunded law. He did say the "decay" of families and the increase in single-parent families were taking a toll on kids’ behavior at school.
"Behaviors that were being taught in homes in the past aren’t being taught," he said.
Dr. Sofronio Navarrete, principal of Alexander Henderson Elementary on St. Croix, agreed. His school has already implemented a version of character education. He said the violence and rudeness seen among children result from a lack of discipline.
The problem "isn’t why Johnny can’t read," he said. "It’s why Johnny can’t tell right from wrong."
Claudette Petersen, president of the St. Croix Central High School Parent-Teachers Association, said she would rather teach her kids right from wrong than depend on teachers to do it.
"There is a need for this character building, but who is going to instill the character in my children?" she asked, adding that nobody can do it "better than I can."
"I don’t think we have teachers – a lot of them – (who) have character themselves," she said.
Baptiste said the bill was intended to ensure conformity as more schools implement such programs.
"Some schools are doing it, others are not," he said. "You would have everybody in the same line doing the same thing."
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said the department is already setting up workshops to address character education in the territory’s schools. She said the program at Henderson Elementary could be used as a guide.
"Character education is essential to the future of the community," she said. "We are, in fact, doing what is necessary."

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