PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Parents and teachers in Providence continued to push for their schools to remain open Tuesday night, demanding a stop to the plan to shutter two city schools this spring.
The Providence Public School District announced last month plans to shut down two elementary schools, Alan Shawn Feinstein at Broad Street and Carl G. Lauro, at the end of the school year.
Parents protesting the closure interrupted Tuesday night’s meeting of the R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, forcing the meeting to be briefly shut down.
“Keep our schools open. Keep our schools open,” parents were chanting during the meeting.
Families at Broad Street school have been repeatedly calling for the district to pause the closure plans for the Washington Park school, pointing to the fact that it’s the only elementary school in that neighborhood. Many students walk to class.
The state-controlled district did not seek any input from the public before making the decision to close the two elementary schools this spring, along with a plan to close Gilbert Stuart Middle School by 2025.
“The process and decision of closing our school was made in secrecy,” said Carol Winter, a teacher at the Broad Street school, during the public comment period. “There was zero input from the stakeholders.”
The closures are part of a larger new plan to build and renovate several new schools that will combine elementary and middle school students. The district doesn’t currently have any K-8 schools.
The construction plan will utilize hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds approved by Providence voters over the past three elections.
The Rhode Island Department of Education has pointed to declining enrollment and the conditions of the buildings in the decision to close the schools.
“Let’s be clear and honest — our kids are not going to a brand new school next year,” Winter said. “They are going to schools that are very much like ours.”
RIDE released a statement following the events that unfolded, saying during an agenda item about Providence curriculum, “community members began voicing concern while the board conducted its scheduled business.”
“All community members who signed up to provide public comment at the beginning of the meeting were allowed to,” said spokesperson Victor Morente.
The meeting went into recess due to the interruption, and about 20 minutes later the meeting resumed to continue discussing the remaining items on the agenda.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who typically attends the meetings, was not in attendance due to a pre-scheduled medical procedure.
State Rep. Enrique Sanchez, D-Providence, said he was “very disappointed” with the response to the concern from parents, teachers and elected officials at the meeting. He also said RIDE officials turned off the live stream to the meeting while he was speaking.
Morente said Sanchez did not sign up for the public comment period, and stood up to speak when the meeting was in recess.
“All community members who signed up to provide public comment were allowed to during the public comment segment of the meeting,” Morente said. “Rep. Sanchez did not sign up. To provide additional context, after the recess was called due to the disruption, a note was put on Zoom advising that the meeting was in recess. It was during the period of recess that the representative began addressing the room.”