Students and staffers at the Charlotte Amalie High School assembled by the main entrance to share a message with the public. They hung a banner declaring their campus a place where illegal drugs, weapons, and violence will not be tolerated.
The banner designated the campus as the violence-free zone of the Chickenhawks.
The Thursday morning unveiling is the first of four such displays, one at each of the territory’s four public high schools, said officials from the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. This means when all banners are displayed, there will also be one for the Ivanna Eudora Kean Devil Rays, Central High School Caribs, and the Barracudas of the St. Croix Educational Complex.
For the Department of Education’s School Safety Division, the violence-free declaration was one of several steps being taken for safety’s sake. Over the past few weeks, Division Director Irvin Mason said there have been summer training sessions for school security monitors; body cameras have been added to their equipment, and security cameras are being installed at six public schools, territory-wide.
“We are doing our best to make sure our schools are safe for the faculty and staff and for when parents come on campus,” Mason said.
CAHS Principal April Petrus watched as a team of students attached the sign to the school fence. “I’m very happy to get it started here. We have the largest student population on campus. We need as many interventions as possible and a variety of interventions as possible, not to just sit down and talk to them,” Petrus said.
For Gun Violence Prevention Office Executive Director Antonio Emanuel, the banner project has a message for everyone. “There’s a part of this that is also trying to educate our citizens, not just high school students but adults as well, about the laws that are in our territory about unlicensed, unregistered weapons and ammunition,” Emanuel said.
But in this collaboration with Education, the anti-violence message broadens out to include other forms of physical violence, bullying, and drug abuse. In the 2022-2023 school year, administrators turned to law enforcement to address the number of students coming to school after ingesting edible hemp and cannabis products.
Mason said it seemed the effort to quell that problem was effective. “We haven’t had much complaints about edibles this year yet; let’s hope not. I think the parents are getting the message. We’re looking forward to working closely with VIPD,” he said.
Now, Emanuel said, work has begun to not only deliver a message discouraging violence but to change behavior.
“We have some of the toughest laws on the books to help people deter crime; however, people are still doing it. So we need to flood the airwaves with information, educate our population so they know what the rules are, so when they make decisions they know what the consequences are going to be,” he said.