Laptops were likely the target of an apparent break-in this week at the Juanita Gardine K-8 School on St. Croix.
According to Government House spokesman Richard Motta Jr., the break-in was first reported to authorities on Tuesday morning after school staff noticed several doors and computer rooms breached with bolt cutters.
No computers were stolen. However, the perpetrators fled the scene before staff arrived.
“They broke into approximately 11 different computer rooms and classrooms,” Motta said. “We suspect they were looking for the laptops and Chromebooks that are being delivered to the students.”
The V.I. Police Department has yet to release any information on the matter or confirm any ongoing investigation.
On Wednesday, V.I. Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin, while appearing on the department’s Community Connect virtual town hall, said the burglars did not steal any desktop computers because they were “specifically targeting” the new laptops.
She called the break-in a “shame” and demanded the community refrain from such illegal activity.
“You’re robbing from our children. You’re basically robbing them of their future,” she said. “When you take their resources away, you make it 10 times harder for that teacher to engage that student and for that student to gain the material from their teacher.”
St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Carlos McGregor said he was equally “disturbed” when he first heard of the incident.
“Please leave our schools alone,” he said. “We always want more inventory in our schools but we can’t move forward if we just continue to replace [inventory].”
McGregor said school maintenance staff will repair the broken doors and locks. He further advised the community to call the police if they notice any such activity in the future.
While the burglary was ultimately unsuccessful, it puts a larger spotlight on the dire need for laptops in the community, as students adapt to their new virtual learning classrooms.
Even after five weeks of school, several students lack the devices to log onto their virtual learning platforms, forcing them to rely on phone calls with their teacher, instructional workbooks and other means to stay engaged.
Every student in the territory is expected to get a laptop once a shipment of 12,000 Chromebooks arrives. However, that delivery could be 1-2 months away. On Tuesday, the Education Department announced the arrival of the first 1,000 of these Chromebooks. McGregor said the shipment will be distributed to students in-need on St. Croix.
The Chromebooks were purchased with $20 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding received from Congress.
Earlier this week, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. expressed dismay in the attempted burglary during his weekly press briefing.
“We have to make sure that we are valuing education as a community ... and we have to bind together as a community,” he said. “[The burglars] were unsuccessful but they will be back again. Do not purchase stolen equipment. You’re robbing [our children] of their future.”