PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — Rhode Island lawmakers criticized education officials Thursday night about the planned closures of two Providence elementary schools.
“Can we agree that was very poorly handled?” Rep. Patricia Serpa, chair of the House Committee on Oversight, asked R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and Zack Scott, deputy superintendent of operations at Providence Public Schools.
Both responded with silence.
“I guess we can’t agree,” Serpa said.
The state-run district announced plans to shut down Alan Shawn Feinstein at Broad Street and Carl G. Lauro elementary schools at the end of the school year Tuesday night.
The agenda for Thursday night’s oversight committee hearing was posted Dec. 9, before news of the school closures was made public, but many lawmakers took time to press district leaders about the way in which the announcement was made.
“You’re not holding onto what you’re responsible for, with regards to being honest and open and transparent,” Rep. Anastasia Williams said.
Infante-Green doubled down on previous statements, explaining that this is not how the district planned to deliver the news.
The Providence Teachers Union posted about the closures on social media over the weekend, prompting district to confirm the closings.
Infante-Green told lawmakers the district planned to make the announcement later in the month after Providence Superintendent Javier Montañez returned from leave following a surgery. The education officials have been criticized for holding onto the information.
“It didn’t come out the way we wanted, and that’s what was felt by our educators and our parents,” Scott said. “We’re sorry it happened that way.”
Some lawmakers criticized the lack of Providence School Board involvement in the decision. Under the state takeover, the board serves in an advisory role. In this case, the board was not even notified of the plan to close the schools before the decision was finalized.
“I don’t think it means they can’t be engaged and they can’t be part of the conversation,” Serpa said. “They live in the city, they know their neighborhoods.”
Some School Board members suggested the closures be tabled until more community input can be gathered.
Infante-Green was asked about the idea Thursday, but made no indication that would happen.
“Nobody is going to be happy when there’s a school closure,” Infante-Green said. “This is not something anyone has done lightly. But it just makes sense for the district that we can have new schools.”
The oversight committee hearing was focused on providing lawmakers with an update on the state takeover of Providence Public Schools, which began in November 2019.