The Education Department late Tuesday night announced it had launched an investigation into an unnamed employee after a photo circulated on social media of the “employee inappropriately dressed while holding virtual classes with students at the St. Croix Central High School on Oct. 12.”
“The Department of Education denounces the actions of the employee and has acted swiftly” by removing the employee from teaching while an investigation is underway, Education spokesperson Cynthia Graham said in the released statement.
“The employee has been denied any further access to department-owned email and video conferencing accounts that allow online interaction with students,” she said.
According to the news release, an investigative hearing is scheduled today with the employee, union representatives, and Education officials “as part of the required due process.”
“Appropriate further action may be taken as the investigation unfolds,” according to the statement.
Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin denounced the employee’s action.
“Our employees are held to the highest standards of decorum and professionalism, and the Department of Education will not condone behaviors that fall outside of these expectations when it comes to any of our staff, particularly our teaching professionals,” Berry-Benjamin said in the prepared statement. “Our students’ safety comes first, and we are committed to ensuring their trust is not violated while they are under our care.”
The news comes as the department is still reeling from an incident last month where a 15-year employee at Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas was arrested in connection with child pornography charges, even alegedly filming the acts with equipment from the school.
Federal prosecutors in subsequent court hearings earlier this month said they have evidence that Alfredo Bruce Smith, 50, a CAHS track coach and hall monitor, sexually abused dozens of underage boys for at least 13 years.
Shortly after Smith’s arrest, Berry-Benjamin said her department would also launch an internal probe, but has not said anything publicly since.
According to Tuesday’s statement, the department is arranging additional training for faculty on the appropriate dress code for teaching virtually, as well as the proper use of online teaching platforms and the expectations involved.