As students head back to class for a new school year, all is not well in the Virgin Islands.
Five years after Hurricane Irma, far too many of the territory’s children are being left behind because of unacceptable delays in repairing and replacing schools damaged in the storm.
Though good progress has finally been made on the new Elmore Stoutt High School buildings, the project remains incomplete. As a result, most ESHS students will head back to class on a shift system once again.
Leaders are saying the new building could open next month, but this target seems unrealistic given the logistics associated with moving classrooms in the middle of a term.
Meanwhile, the territory’s largest primary school — Althea Scatliffe — was shuttered in June due to serious structural concerns identified only after a collapsed ceiling last year triggered an engineering review.
The student body is being split up among other schools, and Unite BVI has generously agreed to build the additional infrastructure needed to accommodate them. But in the meantime, the ASPS relocation will require many students to attend class on a shift system, and government has not yet announced its long-term plans for the ASPS building itself.
Nor are the problems limited to these two schools
A contract was recently awarded for a new Jost Van Dyke Primary, but the island’s students presumably can expect to continue learning in temporary facilities until it is complete.
In Carrot Bay, there has been no word recently on Isabella Morris Primary, which was destroyed by Irma.
Many of the schools that are operational — some of which will now be overcrowded with ASPS students — are also struggling with mould, leaks and other issues. And after the sudden ceiling collapse at ASPS, we have to wonder how many other school buildings have similar structural issues.
It is a national disgrace that so many students are still learning in compromised conditions five years after Irma.
The repercussions will be long-lasting. Recent studies abroad have shown that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an alarming impact on students’ test scores. We know of no comparable study here in the VI, but we suspect the damage could be much worse given that many VI students were still struggling to recover from Irma when the pandemic hit.
Indeed, today’s 12th graders, who entered seventh grade the year of Irma, have never seen a truly normal year of high school.
Unfortunately, an end to the education system’s infrastructure woes is nowhere in sight.
Properly rebuilding and refurbishing all the territory’s schools will cost tens of millions of dollars. But as far as we know, this money has not been sourced.
As schools and other aspects of the public-sector Irma recovery have fallen further and further behind, successive governments have refused to access the £300 loan guarantee offered by the United Kingdom — and they have failed to source other comparable funding.
It’s time to bite the bullet. To that end, we were glad to hear Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley promise recently to source new recovery funding soon.
Once this money is in hand, schools should be at the top of the priority list. They have been at the bottom for far too long.