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VIDE Offers Free Tech Tools for Eligible Students; World’s Largest Cruise Ship Sailing to St. Thomas

Government House Director of Communications Richard Motta Jr. provides updates during a weekly press briefing on Monday. (Screenshot from Government House Facebook live stream)

The Virgin Islands Education Department is offering free tools for eligible students, including tablets and internet access. Separately, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has announced the appointment of a new executive director of the V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission, and St. Thomas will welcome the world’s largest cruise ship.

“The Virgin Islands Department of Education is pleased to inform all parents of K-12 students enrolled in public and private schools and who are a part of the Free and Reduced Breakfast and Lunch Programs in the U.S. Virgin Islands about an exciting collaboration,” said Director of Communications Richard Motta Jr., during the weekly Government House press briefing on Monday.

“Thanks to the U.S. Affordable Connectivity Program, a $15 billion initiative by the U.S. Congress designed to assist low-income Americans, eligible students can now receive free tablets and internet services,” Motta continued.

Motta explained that the program is being made possible through a partnership with “Heritage Wireless” with the help of Sen. Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

“This opportunity extends to all public-school students across the U.S. Virgin Islands, including those in the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts. Private school students who are part of the Free and Reduced Breakfast and Lunch Program are also eligible,” according to information available on the VIDE website.

“Your child can only [obtain] these tech tools if you apply,” Motta said. “This is a great step toward bridging the digital divide and ensuring our kids have the tools they need for success. So, make sure you take advantage of this,” he added.

Parents of school-age children who may qualify for this program are encouraged to apply by the deadline on Friday, Feb. 2. More information is available on the VIDE website or by contacting Maria Melendez Tirado, chief turnaround officer at VIDE, at 340-642-6934.

New Executive Director of V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission

In separate community news, Bryan has appointed Moleto A. Smith Jr. as the new executive director of the Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has named Moleto A. Smith Jr. as the new executive director of the V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission. (Screenshot from Government House Facebook live stream)

“With over three decades of experience in various sectors, including government operations, healthcare, and emergency management, Mr. Smith is exceptionally equipped for this pivotal role,” Motta explained. “Mr. Smith has held several positions, [such as] interim and acting commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services,” he added.

“Governor Bryan is confident in Mr. Smith’s ability to steer the commission toward new heights in law enforcement and community safety. The governor and the Virgin Islands community anticipate Mr. Smith’s impactful leadership in his new role,” Motta stated.

Live Horse Racing Coming to St. Thomas; Delayed on St. Croix

Motta addressed comments made by Bryan during his State of the Territory Address regarding live horse racing. In his address on Jan. 22, Bryan shared the news of live horse racing at Clinton E. Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas during Carnival 2024. Still, he noted that racing would not occur on St. Croix due to ongoing construction at the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack.

“During the governor’s State of the Territory Address, the governor shared his pronouncement of live horse racing at the Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas during St. Thomas Carnival,” Motta said. “He wished he could make a similar pronouncement for live horse racing in St. Croix,” he added.

“The governor noted that while construction appears to have just begun, VIGL Operations has still not made the necessary progress [required] to return horse racing to the island of St. Croix. This, after the administration has made every concession, including making available a 5-million-dollar grant toward the completion of the racetrack.”

Motta dismissed rumors that the administration has withheld grant money designated for VIGL Operations to complete the racetrack construction.

“Some [individuals] in our community have spread misinformation and misclassified the governor’s comments, saying that the administration is intentionally holding up horse racing on St. Croix by holding back the 5-million-dollar grant from VIGL Operations, [but] this is false,” Motta declared.

“Governor Bryan agreed to make the funding available to VIGL once substantial progress was made toward construction efforts [at the St. Croix racetrack], and VIGL agreed,” Motta explained. “[However], up until this point, the progress has been less than satisfactory. So, just to be clear, there is no truth to the notion that Governor Bryan is withholding grant funding from VIGL to slow the progress of horse racing on St. Croix,” he continued.

World’s Largest Cruise Ship Sails to St. Thomas

Finally, in a nod to recent positive news regarding tourism across the USVI, Motta revealed that the world’s largest cruise ship will be visiting the territory for the first time this week.

Royal Caribbean’s “Icon of the Seas”— the world’s largest cruise ship — is making its maiden voyage to St. Thomas. (Screenshot from Government House Facebook live stream)

“During Governor Bryan’s State of the Territory Address, you may have heard him mention our tourism [sector] and how it continues to grow and realize success,” Motta said. “The world’s largest cruise ship, ‘The Royal Caribbean Icon of the Seas,’ is making its first-ever voyage to Crown Bay on St. Thomas on Wednesday, Jan. 31,” he explained.

The arrival of the massive cruise vessel, which can transport up to 7,600 passengers, exemplifies the territory’s commitment to growing the tourism sector. When asked by the Source about plans for cruise ships arriving in the territory in the future, Motta noted that residents on both St. Croix and St. Thomas can expect more cruise ship arrivals.

“We are increasing cruise calls to our ports at the West Indian Company (WICO) dock and the Crown Bay facility, as well as the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility in Frederiksted,” said Motta. “Residents of the territory can expect more cruise calls to the territory in the coming season,” he continued.

Residents of St. Thomas were asked to be mindful of the influx of tourists this week, explaining that multiple cruise liners will be docking at both the Crown Bay and WICO cruise ports this week. Five are scheduled to call on the island on Wednesday, with three at Havensight and two at Crown Bay, including the Icon of the Seas, prompting the Education Department to issue a press release Monday warning of heavy traffic and possible transportation delays that day.

“We kindly ask St. Thomas residents, especially parents of school-age students, to ensure that they pick up their children on time as there may be changes to normal traffic patterns and limited taxi services due to the influx of visitors,” Motta explained. “Let’s all come together to welcome our visitors and ensure that everyone has a fantastic time while visiting our beautiful Virgin Islands,” he concluded.


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