The V.I. Board of Education and the Department of Education will have less – but clearer – legal regulatory authority over home schooling, if a bill sent on to the Senate floor Friday is enacted into law.
When the bill sponsored by Sens. Novelle Francis and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly was first approved in committee in October, it initially prohibited the Department of Education from regulating the home school curriculum or testing, which raised concerns from some parents groups and from the Department of Education.
But senators amended the bill Friday to specify certain subjects be taught, require standardized tests in some grades, have parents disclose who is teaching the children and their qualifications, and otherwise give the Education Department more oversight. Parents would still have wide latitude in curriculum content and a right to home school.
The bill says a "parent retains full control over a home instruction of a child, including the teaching and testing methods, the selection of curriculum, the instructors and the location of instruction," but also that all V.I. government institutions must recognize the "diploma" issued by the student’s parents.
The amendments added Friday bring the bill closer to regulations on home instruction proposed by the V.I. Board of Education. It now also mandates instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. It allows the Department of Education to interview home schooled students and to require standardized testing in third, fifth, eighth, and 11th grades.
Francis said the bill responds to the needs of "the steadily increasing number of families across the territory who are choosing to home school their children," as he introduced the bill to the Rules and Judiciary Committee. He said all 50 states and the territories allow some form of home schooling but there is no single standard.
Francis said he believes the bill "is a fair and balanced approach" and "a comprehensive update of existing legislation" that codifies the policies of the V.I. Board of Education.
The Rules Committee also sent on to the full Legislature a measure sponsored by Rivera-O’Reilly giving the Senate more oversight over the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park.
Currently the RTPark is governed by a seven-member board of trustees that includes UVI’s president, the chair of UVI’s board of trustees, two more members chosen by the board of trustees and three members appointed by the governor at his sole discretion.
The bill [Bill 31-0263] specifies that the three chosen by the governor are to be "from the private sector" and will be subject to approval by the Legislature.
"We have noted there has been a lack of forward movement, a lack of real measurable outcomes coming from the RTPark, and since this bill was vetted in August of 2016, no changes have occurred," Rivera-O’Reilly said, introducing the measure.
"No one has been hired. Everyone is on task order. The director uses her power to intimidate the contract employees. Contracts are given to individuals outside the territory that are not even licensed to do business in the territory," she continued.
"If the tech park is to be … a driver for economic growth and if it is to create a link between students in technology, science and research, to the extent that it offers tax breaks tax subsidies to these companies, then we must have and play a role in who sits on that board, on who sets policies, who approves plans, who approves budgets. We must because currently the research and technology park is not fulfilling its mandate," Rivera-O’Reilly said.
The committee also approved a bill changing V.I. guardianship statutes to match uniform laws enacted throughout most of the nation. The long, complex bill addresses legal guardianship of youth and disabled and incapacitated adults and seniors.
Tom Bolt, chairman of the V.I. Uniform Law Commission, said the current V.I. guardianship law "is based on a New York statute that is over 100 years old and was enacted with our municipal statutes in the 1920s."
"As you can well appreciate, guardianship law has made great advances in the past century, and our territory needs this modern statute to ensure youth, our disabled and incapacitated adults and seniors receive the legal protections they deserve," he said. The bill is adopted from the Uniform Probate Code, with provisions based on the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act of 1997
"About half of the states throughout the United States have adopted a version" of that law, Bolt said.
All three bills were approved without opposition. Present were: Rivera-O’Reilly, Francis, Sens. Jean Forde, Janette Millin Young and Kenneth Gittens. Sens. Justin Harrigan and Neville James were absent.