Imagine waking up every morning and commuting to another island to complete high school. That is exactly what students from St. John in the United States Virgin Islands have been seeking to complete their education every day since 1934. This is about to change.
Last week, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D) sent his proposed legislation to the legislature for a land swap with the National Park Service. The swap would allow the construction of a K-12 school on St. John, following a fifty-year struggle to get the land. If approved, the agreement with the National Park Service will be ready to move forward by July 1, according to Government House.
In October 2020, The Trump Administration signed a preliminary agreement to seek out a land swap between the National Park Service and the US Virgin Islands. This would allow local officials to finally meet their arduous effort to construct the first K-12 public school on St. John.
At the time, Governor Bryan welcomed the agreement. “We need this land exchange to finally guarantee an excellent, safe education for all USVI students. This facility will serve the community, not just as a school, but it will also provide a hardened hurricane shelter, a meeting space for public assemblies, and athletic facilities for the people of St. John,” said Bryan.
Public education in St. John is currently only available through the eighth grade. Virgin Islands National Park encompasses about 60 percent of the island of St. John. Now, the proposed legislation from the governor calls for the exchange of Whistling Cay from the USVI government to the US Department of Interior.
The plans for the land swap have not gone unnoticed in the community, drawing a fair share of resistance. A majority of residents have asked why NPS could not donate the land. Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington remembers the pain of commuting. “My children had to endure it, and I don’t want my grandchildren to have to endure it. It’s time for us to be serious about where we’re putting our values and our priorities. I want to see our children receive what is overdue to them for decades,” Wells-Hedrington said.
USVI Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett (D) argued that fighting for a land donation could delay the construction of a new school by ten years. Wells-Hedrington said she hopes to make the new school a reality by 2025. The latest piece of legislation from Governor Bryan is a step in the right direction for St. John and its students.