SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — The clock is ticking for the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative (NRIC) which is on track to be dissolved by the end of the school year.
The nonprofit is geared toward special education students. Carey Fudge’s son is one of nearly 300 students from dozens of districts statewide who benefit from the collaborative.
“He has thrived, excelled, there’s no judgment. They meet him where he’s at and also challenge him,” she said.
Earlier this week, NIRC staff received a letter saying the Board of Superintendents voted to dissolve the collaborative.
The decision has been hard for the nonprofit’s teachers to come to terms with.
“They’re like my children,” one teacher said of her students. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Despite the decision, teachers remain hopeful that a compromise will be reached and the collaborative will continue for the sake of the students.
“I don’t think I could get through each day without having that hope, and that’s the way to do it,” another teacher said. “We are a huge family. We’re hoping for a positive outcome.”
NRIC Board of Superintendents Chairman Dr. Bernard DiLullo tells 12 News he recognizes the importance of the collaborative. He said if there’s a way to keep the nonprofit alive past June 30, it’s possible the board will reconsider.
“The board has identified the need for the collaborative to continue — it’s an important service,” DiLullo said. “It’s important to the kids, it’s important the families and to our staff, so we appreciate all the work they are doing.”
In a letter sent to Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, the NRIC Employee Union pointed out that all 12 of the districts that make up the collaborative notified the state late last year that they’re no longer interested in participating.
“These actions were done with little transparency, discussion or communication to the parents, teachers, staff and students of the collaborative. We believe this is a grave injustice,” the letter read. “We can’t believe that the educational community would abandon the students in such a manner, particularly considering that these students have such unique and significant needs that the [Individualized Education Program] process has determined can’t be met by their home school districts.”
12 News reached out to the Rhode Island Department of Education regarding the letter, to which a spokesperson confirmed Infante-Green is in talks with district leaders to “ensure the quality of students is not impacted.”
“Regardless of whether they are members of the collaborative or not, districts are expected to provide students the services and supports mandated by law,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also shared a copy of the letter sent to the superintendents who opted to no longer participate in the collaborative. In that letter, Infante-Green asked the superintendents to explain why they made the decision and how the district plans to meet the legal obligations of the students impacted. Those explanations are due by Friday.
Meanwhile, teachers aren’t giving up their fight to keep the collaborative from dissolving.
“We’re not dissolved until all of the districts decide that they’re not moving forward,” NRIC Employee Union President Kim Souza said. “We’re just hoping that some of the districts stay with us, because we only need four or five on the [Board of Superintendents] to keep this place open.”
The Board of Superintendents plans to discuss the collaborative’s future on March 17.
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