Providence City Council urges superintendent to resign amid hiring scandal

Providence

Former Providence Superintendent Harrison Peters (file photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The Providence City Council is calling for the resignation of Superintendent Harrison Peters, joining the growing list of city and state leaders asking him to do so amid a hiring scandal that has rocked the school district.

The council unanimously passed a resolution during Thursday night’s meeting asking Peters to step down. Calls for Peters’ resignation have been mounting after he acknowledged during a Senate oversight hearing that he knew Dr. Olayinka Alege was accused of inappropriately touching students’ feet in Florida prior to hiring him.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who hired Peters to run the Providence schools as part of the state takeover, asked him to resign Tuesday night. He has not done so, and Gov. Dan McKee confirmed Thursday that Peters is in exit negotiations with the R.I. Department of Education.

Neither McKee nor Infante-Green have said they would fire Peters. His contract allows him to be terminated with cause without any payment.

Alege, 40, was charged last week with forcibly rubbing an underage boy’s foot at a Warwick gym, an incident that police say was captured on surveillance camera. He pleaded not guilty, but resigned from his job as a network superintendent at the Providence Public School District following his arrest.

Questions immediately arose about why Alege was hired in the first place, considering a 2009 article in the Sun Sentinel said Alege was accused of “popping” boys’ toes as an apparent punishment while working as an assistant principal in Tampa.

The article was among the top Google results for Alege’s name when he was hired last summer, and Peters said he read it.

“I questioned Dr. Alege about it directly,” Peters said. “When he told me that he had meant no harm and that, in hindsight, he understood that his behavior was inappropriate and would never be repeated, I made a decision to believe him.”

He apologized, and said hiring Alege was an error in judgment.

Peters’ explanation wasn’t good enough for Providence School Board President Nick Hemond.

“I don’t know how you could explain that in a way that’s acceptable, other than convincing someone you didn’t do it,” Hemond remarked Wednesday night. “Dr. Alege’s explanation of ‘I didn’t think it was inappropriate at the time’ would be the most concerning thing I could ever imagine hearing from a person, because to me, it’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard and it’s disgusting.”

The Providence School Board voted “no confidence” in Peters’ leadership after he didn’t show up to Wednesday night’s meeting, where he was scheduled for a performance review. The board met in executive session for about an hour to review his performance before taking the vote in public.

Peters has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Meanwhile, two additional victims have since accused Alege of forcibly rubbing their feet. Neither have pressed charges, but came forward after seeing a news report that Alege had been charged for a similar allegation.

Steph Machado contributed to this report.

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