PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After several hours of testimony, Rhode Island’s education commissioner denied a motion by student groups and parents to “intervene” in the state takeover of Providence Public Schools.
The groups wanted to be included in a “show cause” hearing on the takeover set for Friday, but the Department of Education (RIDE) said only the mayor, School Board, City Council and superintendent could be part of that legal proceeding and object to the plan.
None of those four parties chose to object to Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green’s order to take control of Providence schools.
The student and parent groups, represented by attorney Jennifer Wood, argued for hours on Friday that having public forums and seeking community input was not enough. The groups wanted a formal seat at the table when it comes to forming a turnaround plan for the Providence school district, but said they do not oppose Infante-Green taking control of the district.
“There’s a dire urgency for us to move forward,” Infante-Green said before denying the motion. “We will be working together to create the plan.”
But the groups said a promise from Infante-Green that they would be included in the plan is not enough, especially if the state takeover continues past the time when Infante-Green is education commissioner.
“If they fail this, they will fail for generations,” said Maggie Mian, a mother of four children who attend Asa Messer Elementary and West Broadway Middle School. “This is our children’s lives. There is nothing else. If they fail this, they will fail for generations.”
Lawyers for RIDE argued that the order to take control of the schools, released in August, does include language to include parents and students.
“Before, during, and after the development of such a Turnaround Plan, the State Turnaround Superintendent and/or other designee(s) shall engage, be accessible, and be responsive to students, parents, families, educators and the public broadly,” the order states.
Infante-Green is interviewing candidates for the “turnaround superintendent,” but has not released any names of finalists yet. She said Friday one of the three candidates she was considering stepped aside, “because of all the noise that has been happening.”
“We don’t even know who that is,” Mian said. “We don’t even have a say in who that is.”
“It can’t be engagement, it can’t be community forums,” said Chanda Womack, executive director of the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE). “It needs to be, ‘Come to the table and help us create the state takeover plan.'”
Domingo Morel, a Rutgers University professor and Providence native who wrote a book on state takeovers, also testified in favor of allowing the students and parents to intervene.
“It’s pretty odd that a whole city and all the political institutions have decided not to object to the takeover,” Morel said. “That’s pretty odd.”
After denying the motion, Infante-Green began the formal show cause hearing on the order to takeover the schools. Three city councilors — Rachel Miller, Helen Anthony and Kat Kerwin — testified about their concerns.
“We really need, in this order that’s in front of us right now, to create a legally binding process for accountability and transparency that includes student and parent voices,” Miller said.
Anthony and Kerwin had similar sentiments.
“How do we know we won’t be sitting here in the same place in 3 years?” Anthony said. “While we have great respect for the commissioner, we can’t just rely on her word. It would be irresponsible of us as representatives of our wards and of the city to do so.”
Anthony also expressed concerns that RIDE had not actually provided three years of support to Providence schools prior to the takeover, which is what is required in the Crowley Act.
Infante-Green appeared visibly disturbed by the suggestion that the state wait three more years, and she read statistics out loud about extremely low proficiency levels of students at specific schools in the wards of the three councilwomen.
“The budget is under the City Council,” Infante-Green told WPRI 12 afterwards. “Why hasn’t the budget been reallocated if this was so important? So for me, this is about kids, I want to work with everyone to move forward. But that was really heartbreaking because we have a rare opportunity to change the system.”
Council President Sabina Matos attended the hearing and submitted a letter to Infante-Green, but did not testify. Mayor Jorge Elorza, Superintendent Fran Gallo and School Board President Nick Hemond did not attend the hearing.