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Education Department Responding to Rash of School Violence

Dec. 12, 2005 – Teachers and school security monitors on St. Thomas and St. Croix have taken drastic action in the face of school violence that has erupted over the past few days.
Police say students from at least seven schools have gotten into fights, beatings and stabbings since late November. The violence became so extreme in the past week that teachers at two St. Croix schools – Arthur Richards Junior High School and St. Croix Central High School – refused to report for work in separate job actions. The head of the St. Croix teacher's union cited school violence in both instances.
On St. Thomas, press reports said uniformed police and school monitors had to use batons and pepper spray to disperse students poised for a large-scale confrontation at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. A series of isolated fights on Tuesday took students to the brink of starting a riot, police said.
"Presently in our schools throughout the territory, we're having a series of fights that are occurring between boys, girls, and just groups, raising havoc in the schools," said Sgt. Thomas Hannah, police spokesman.
Hannah said over a recent seven day period, seven schools summoned police in response to violence, including incidents at the Joseph Gomez Elementary School and the Elena Christian Junior High School; near riots at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School; Arthur Richards Junior High School; a rash of fights lasting several days at the St. Croix Central High School; and stabbings at the St. Croix Educational Complex and the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
An administrator in the office of Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said Friday the Cancryn stabbing took place off-campus Friday afternoon, but the injured student made his way back onto campus after the attack. Police and emergency personnel responded to the school.
The nature of the violence, Hannah said, was particularly vicious at Arthur Richards and at Complex. Authorities say one student at the Complex was stabbed multiple times by an assailant using a pocket knife. Eighteen-year-old Elijah Ritter was arrested and charged with first-degree assault Thursday.
Police and school officials at Arthur Richards Junior High School said a female student was hospitalized Dec 2 after a group of girls kicked her in the head several times.
"You expect fights – violent fights – to be breaking out between boys, however we have girls that are getting extremely violent. It is like a gang attack when a girl has gotten into a fight. She's up against four, or five, or six other girls," Hannah said.
Police said girls and boys were involved in the fights at Eudora Kean High School on Tuesday.
Who's not involved, according to officials, are parents and guardians. In some cases, when they get involved, it’s in the wrong way. For American Federation of Teachers Local 1826 president Tyrone Molyneaux, the lack of parental involvement makes the current lapse in school discipline harder to control. The union leader found himself faced with exasperated teachers twice in one week on St. Croix.
On Friday he called on the Virgin Islands Board of Education to revisit their school disciplinary policy and give teachers and administrators more control over unruly students.
"There is a total break down of authority. The students today have no respect for authority. The policeman in uniform is disrespected, he's called names, he's challenged. So the monitors who carry no weapon, the teachers who carry no weapon, the school administrators who carry no weapon, are at the mercy of these children at times with the barrage of profanity, the barrage of disrespect that they receive," Molyneaux said.
St. Thomas-St. John teacher's union president Vernelle DeLagarde, speaking to a reporter over the phone while off-island Saturday, said she was not aware of what had been going on over the past week. DeLagarde said school violence had not come up as a complaint among unionized teachers in her district yet, but she would consult with her St. Croix counterpart.
"We have dealt with something like this in the past," DeLagarde said. "What we had before was students getting out of control with each other," she said. "I don't know if it's a pattern that passed on from one school to another."
DeLagarde said when widespread violence has broken out in the schools before, it turned out to have started some place outside of school. It may be time to get the community more involved in the problems facing the public school system, she said.

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