Bill No. 33-0019, which changes the school calendar, passed through the Senate but reaches too far and contains unnecessary restrictions that are not in students’ best interests. I wholeheartedly agree that earlier opening and closing dates for the school year are necessary to allow mainly our secondary students the opportunities to attend summer programs abroad, which generally begin early in June. However, it is disheartening that our elected officials have determined that accomplishing that means students must be denied numerous hours of instructional time, and teachers should be offered more time off, instead of proper compensation.
The bill amends Title 17 Chapter 7 section 61a of the Virgin Islands Code to begin the school year by the second week of August and to end the school year before June. Among other changes, it changes the language requiring “no less than 1,080 hours of pupil instruction” to “a minimum of 180 days of student instruction.” (This is what the department has always been using to set the school calendar, in that schools generally have six hours of instruction per day for 180 days.) But this bill also unnecessarily and substantially reduces the number of minimum instructional hours students can receive based on their grade level. The new legislation takes away 270 hours of instruction from students in kindergarten through third grade, requiring a minimum of 810 instructional hours instead of 1,080 hours a year. It further requires a minimum of just 4.5 instructional hours a day, instead of the usual six hours of instruction, even though the percent of third-graders reading on grade level has declined over the last four years. The bill reduces by 180 hours the amount of time students in grades four through six can spend learning and requires a minimum of five hours of instruction daily.