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Providence Public School parents and students file legal motion to require engagement and transparency in schools takeover



“There is nothing more important to me than ensuring that my daughter gets the education she needs and deserves,” said Koren Carbuccia, the mother of a second grader. “I’m joining the hearing because I need to know that parents and students are going to be consulted about what will work best for our children’s future.” 

A group of high school students and Providence parents on behalf of their children filed a motion today with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) demanding that a clear plan for the district be shared with the public before it is implemented. Parents and students were joined by representatives of several organizations that serve Providence youth, including Youth in Action (YIA), Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE), and Providence Student Union (PSU). 

The group, represented by the Rhode Island Center for Justice, is asking the Commissioner of Education to ensure that there is a formal role for parents and students to preview and weigh in on the plan for improving the city’s schools, the leaders who will implement it, and the goals, progress and criteria for success for the plan. 

Community members are advancing two main arguments in their legal motion: 

  1. Students in the Providence public schools and their parents have a clear, strong, personal stake – perhaps the most important stake — in the success of the district, and therefore have a legal right to participate in decisions about the takeover; and
  2. Parents and students of the Providence public schools ask that RIDE put formal, enforceable mechanisms for accountability, transparency and community inclusion in their plan for the takeover. 

In their Motion, the parents, students and community groups are saying to the state: “No one has a greater stake in demanding improvements in the schools than parents and students, and no turnaround will succeed without a clear plan that includes the community.” 

“There is nothing more important to me than ensuring that my daughter gets the education she needs and deserves,” said Koren Carbuccia, the mother of a second grader. “I’m joining the hearing because I need to know that parents and students are going to be consulted about what will work best for our children’s future.” 

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“Providence students have been fighting for more effective, culturally responsive education for years. Now there is going to be a state intervention and we have a right to be a formal part of that,” said Paola Mejia, a senior at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex. “We live the Providence Public Schools experience every day. We know what we need and we’ve been telling local and state leaders that for a long time. It’s not optional to include us: We have a right to be heard.” 

The “show cause” hearing is scheduled for September 13th at 10am at the Rhode Island Department of Education, 255 Westminster Street in Providence.

The Providence Student Union sent their own release, saying:

Today, Providence Student Union joined students, families, youth organizations, and the Rhode Island Center for Justice calling for greater transparency and clarity of the role that youth and families will play in leading change in our public schools. This call came in the form of a legal “Motion to Intervene” filed with the Rhode Island Department of Education in advance of their takeover of the Providence Public School Department.

We want to explain our reasoning for joining this call for transparency.

We agree that the Providence schools need significant reforms—this has been the core of PSU’s mission for almost a decade. From our campaigns to expand transportation access and rebuild school facilities, to launching Ethnic Studies courses, to ending high-stakes testing—the students of PSU have been fighting for better schools since 2010. Our landmark “Student Bill of Rights,” launched in 2017, maps what students want in a safe, healthy, engaging, and empowering school system.

Over the years we’ve watched carefully as other cities tackled major reform. In many cities the state has locked the community out. They have held focus groups and listening sessions, but not given the community any authority in making decisions.

The results? Turmoil, division, fighting, and mistrust. In Philadelphia, the state takeover of the public schools lasted for 17 years. Our allies at Philadelphia Student Union fought for years to make sure the community had a decision-making power in this process. But the state locked them and others out, and instead closed over 30 schools, cut the budget by millions, handed over some schools to for-profit companies, and laid off critical school staff. The lack of nurses and health equipment in Philadelphia Schools were blamed for in-school deaths of two students. It’s a similar story in Newark, where families and youth struggled for a voice in their state-controlled school system for 22 years. Both districts finally came back under local control recently, and they are still picking up the pieces having missed a chance at real reform during state takeover.

Rhode Island doesn’t have to repeat the mistakes of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have joined other community groups to demand a clear role and authority for students, parents and teachers for three reasons:

  • Students are the ones affected most. If the takeover goes wrong, it won’t be the adults and politicians who are harmed. Students deserve to know what will be enacted upon them, what they will have to live through every day.
  • We need a transparent process with clear ways the community can hold the state accountable. The state is requesting control over the future of 24,000 youth, but it has presented no plan, no metrics for success, and no vision of a successful Providence school system. Our schools won’t improve if the work is done behind closed doors. No power without a plan.
  • We need community leadership. Providence has a strong community of students, parents, and teachers ready to engage in this reform process, and RIDE should include community members in powerful leadership roles. Students in particular know what schools need, and we need to make sure that the plans and leadership of this schools takeover reflect their concerns and include them in decision-making. Unfortunately, RIDE has cut the community out of the hiring process for the turnaround superintendent, saying yesterday that, “Everyone thinks they know education, but here we are.” In contrast, we believe students, parents and teachers have a lot to add, and we should give them a real chance at improving their schools before we belittle their desire to be engaged.

We’re not against change. But we do want it to be the right change, and we want those changes to succeed. The only chance we have at bucking the national trend of failed district takeovers is to give the community real decision-making authority from the start.


[From press releases]