V.I. law will mandate V.I. public high schools require students to take a course on civics that includes the functions of the three branches of government and possibly some cultural and colonial, historical elements, if a bill approved in committee is enacted into law.
"An understanding of civics is fundamental to our own political development," Sen. Novelle Francis, the bill’s sponsor, said while introducing it to the Committee on Education and Workforce Development on Wednesday.
Each senator at the hearing and an array of testifiers, from the Board of Education, Department of Education, UVI-V.I. Caribbean Culture Center, V.I. Youth Advocacy Coalition, Inc. and also individual teachers, all who spoke strongly in favor of civics education. Many also spoke of the importance of education in V.I. and Caribbean culture and history; the history of colonialism, of the transfer of the territory from Denmark to the USA and of the historical mistreatment of USVI and Caribbean people and more.
Board of Education Chairwoman Mary Moorhead said the board "wholeheartedly endorse(s) this body’s effort to legislate civics in the public school curriculum." But she said the board could not endorse this particular bill because it needed more detail on the type of curriculum and it needed funding.
"Our first acquaintance with the United States was as native inhabitants with a murky political status and no civil rights, much less citizenship. Shouldn’t civic education tell the story of our struggle to this present form of government?" Moorhead asked.
She also noted that V.I. law already mandates nine courses, from Caribbean history to real estate appraisal to swimming, "that do not exist because they are not funded."
"V.I. and Basic Caribbean History is number one" on that list, she said.
Francis said, "We could tweak this bill" and noted he recognized that some components were already being taught. "But I think we could all agree there is room for improvement and that civics should be taught in V.I. schools as a structured course," he said.
While history is also crucial, that issue "does not address the question of teaching civics in school," Francis said.
Voting to send the bill out of committee for amendment in the Rules and Judiciary Committee were Sens. Kenneth Gittens, Justin Harrigan, Tregenza Roach and Jean Forde. Sens. Myron Jackson, Positive Nelson and Kurt Vialet were absent.
The committee voted to hold, for now, bills mandating schools provide an option for single-gender classroom instruction and to mandate an identification system for high-performing, low-income students’ programs, gifted programs, and an accountability system for the achievement and growth of all students in the U.S. Virgin Islands public school system.