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  • Writer's pictureSen. Donna Frett-Gregory

Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory dismayed by the Governor's Veto of Bill No. 35-0082

For Immediate Release

October 5, 2023

St. Thomas, USVI – Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory today expressed her extreme disappointment in the Governor’s veto of Bill No. 35-0082, which sought to protect our youngest learners by limiting the expulsion and suspension of students in pre-kindergarten through the third grade. With the measure, the Virgin Islands would be joining 22 states and numerous school districts across the nation that have enacted similar legislation and policy. According to the Institute for Child Success, excluding students from school early predicts expulsion or suspension in later grades and contributes to students’ poor academic performance and failure to graduate on time. This bill represents a major step in ensuring that our students can read at or above grade level by the third grade, which has been and continues to be an issue in the territory.


The Governor’s veto message stated in part “…Without effective communication and cooperation, we run the risk of creating impractical or ineffective laws. I respectfully request that the Legislature reach out to the entities affected to produce a measure which will achieve the intended goal without placing additional undue burdens on our educators and school-based professionals.”


“The Governor’s message is beyond perplexing, as the Governor submitted to the 33rd and the 34th Legislatures, what is now known as the V.I. Behavioral Health Act and that act already requires teachers and school-based professionals to be trained,” stated Frett-Gregory. “Bill No. 35-0082 references existing law and deviates only by making it clear that the cost associated with the training shall not be borne by the teachers or school-based professionals.”


According to Title 19 Virgin Islands Code Section 1022(c),


“Teachers, school psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, school monitors, and other school personnel must be trained on early identification of potential behavioral health challenges or mental health disorders. They must also receive specialized training in psychiatric diagnoses, suicide intervention, substance use issues, behavioral de-escalation, the role of the family in behavioral health challenges or mental health disorders, behavioral health, and substance use laws, and local resources and procedures for individuals in crisis”


“It is evident by the message that the Governor’s team is unaware of the laws they have submitted, and the Legislature adopted,” said Frett-Gregory. “Bill No. 35-0082 does not create any new or additional requirements for teachers or school-based professionals. This point was made especially clear to the Department of Education’s team, and it is unfortunate that the bill is being made to sound like it is creating a new requirement, it does not.”


“There is also an undeniable connection between quality early childhood education and the reduction of crime and gun violence among adults, and we are all charged with shedding light on the transformative power of investing in our youngest citizens. The bill requires, like most studies recommend, that students are provided with behavioral health services to address their cognitive and behavioral issues early. Our youngest learners should be in a constant educational setting to maximize their academic potential,” said Frett-Gregory. “Bill No. 35-0082 was built from my professional experience and my commitment to improving literacy and numeracy as our students graduate high school. Frederik Douglass has said it best ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults. I thank my colleagues Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James, Sr., Marise C. James, and Carla J. Joseph for signing on to the measure and ask all my colleagues for their support as I move for an override,” concluded Frett-Gregory.

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Contact: Jamila A. Russell

(340) 227-2348

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