Julius E. Sprauve School students, parents and faculty were reeling last week in the aftermath of the worst violence the Cruz Bay public elementary and middle school has ever seen.
A 14-year-old JESS student from St. John was stabbed on the left side of his upper torso by a 16-year-old JESS student from St. Thomas around 10:30 a.m. at the school on Thursday morning, April 8.
A fellow JESS student, a 15-year-old from St. John, brought the switchblade used in the attack to school and was also involved with the stabbing, according to information from the V.I. Police Department.
The 14-year-old victim was treated and released from Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center and was recovering from his injuries last week, according to JESS principal Mario Francis.
“The student, while not back to school yet, has recuperated,” said Francis. “His injuries were not life threatening.”
Both students involved with the incident were arrested and now, in addition to facing serious punishment from the Department of Education and JESS, the two teens face criminal charges as well.
The 16-year-old St. Thomas resident was charged with third-degree assault and possession of a dangerous weapon. The 15-year-old St. John resident was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon and aiding and abetting in connection with the stabbing, according to VIPD spokesperson Melody Rames.
Both teens were placed in the custody of the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix as they await trial.
They were also both suspended from JESS for 10 days and will face the Department of Education’s district superintendent in an expulsion hearing before their suspensions are finished.
Violence like this was previously unknown on the Cruz Bay school’s campus, which is home to 230 students in kindergarten through ninth grades, according to Francis.
“Nothing like this has every happened in my tenure,” said Francis, who has been at the school for seven years. “This is not at all common for our school.”
While Francis said the incident was an isolated act, several JESS faculty members, speaking on condition of anonymity, were not surprised with the violent attack at the once quiet public school.
“There are a lot of things going on at that school,” said one JESS faculty member. “This is not the first incident with a knife either. A seventh grader brought one in to school and it was taken away by another student.”
Recent reports of gang activity at JESS have also gone unreported, according to another staff member.
“We’ve had gang experts in here talking to parents and teachers and telling them they see gang signs at the school, but no one does anything about it,” said the JESS staff member. “It seems people are just ignoring these things.”
This is not the first time the St. Thomas teen who stabbed the victim, has been violent in school, according to the staff member.
The St. Thomas student was transferred to JESS last year after he was involved with an assault on a student at his former school, Bertha C. Boschulte, according to the JESS employee.
When the 16-year-old from Smith Bay was transferred to St. John, parents were upset and hosted a meeting at the school, but did not have the administration’s backing, explained the staff member.
“We knew he was violent from why he was put in our school,” said the employee. “This is not a surprise.”
“I think the administration doesn’t want the superintendent to know we have a lot of problems at the school,” said the JESS faculty member. “This is not just one problem — it’s an ongoing problem.”
Whether or not signs of violence were looming at JESS, the faculty and student body pulled together last week in the wake of the incident.
“The entire school community has been impacted by this because it was the first time,” said Francis. “Although it wasn’t a severe wound, when we hear the word ‘stabbing’ our minds conjure up the worst case scenario. It has really impacted us.”
Francis organized a school-wide assembly on Friday, April 9, to discuss the matter and made a child psychologist available to the student body, he explained.
“I have spoken with our student body and we had our child psychologist and our nurse talking with the children,” said the JESS principal. “We are rallying together.”
To avoid future violence, Francis planned to initiate random searches of students and amp up the school’s conflict resolution.