PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is again challenging the legality of the state Board of Education’s decision to reject a request to reconsider a controversial high school graduation requirement.
At a press conference Monday, ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown said his group has filed its third lawsuit against the board, alleging that it violated the state Open Meetings Act when it voted to reject a petition from the Providence Student Union to reopen the state’s graduation requirements for public discussion.
“The board’s actions these past few months are a stark refutation of the openness in government Gov. [Lincoln] Chafee has so often promoted,” Brown said.
The legal action simply has to do with the board’s voting process and not the graduation policy, according to Brown. If a judge rules in the ACLU’s favor, the board may have to vote again and could be subject to a $5,000 fine. The testing requirement is not being challenged in the suit.
Beginning with the class of 2014, students are required to score at least "partially proficient" on the math and English sections of the New England Common Assessment Program test, which is administered in the fall of their 11th grade year.
Students who fail to achieve a qualifying score on one or both portions of the NECAP are allowed to retake the test during the fall of their senior and again in the spring if necessary. When retaking the test students are only required to show "progress toward proficiency," according to the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Approximately 4,000 students must re-take the test next month in order to graduate. Critics say the test was never designed to be used as a high school graduation requirement and that teachers have been forced to “teach to the test” rather than providing a well-rounded education for students.
The ACLU has previously gone to court with the 11-member board to require it to open its two-day education retreat to the public and to force a vote on the Providence Student Union’s request to reopen the graduation requirements.
The board voted 6-5 last week against reconsidering the mandates, which have been in place since 2008. But the ACLU said the board should have allowed the discussion of the graduation requirements to occur in public rather than in executive session.
Eva-Marie Mancuso, the board’s chairwoman, has said she supports the graduation requirements – including testing – but wants to see how the 12th graders perform when they retake the test in October before making a final decision on whether to move forward with the mandate in the current year.
Mancuso did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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