PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One week after a high-ranking Providence schools administrator resigned following an assault arrest, Rhode Island’s education commissioner is asking the man who hired him to step down.
“After conversations with Governor McKee and community members, yesterday the commissioner asked Superintendent Harrison Peters for his resignation,” said Victor Morente, a spokesperson for Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green.
As of Wednesday evening, Peters had not resigned or responded to requests for comment.
Mayor Jorge Elorza said Wednesday morning he has spoken to Peters multiple times and has urged him to step down.
“I told him that this is ending with him leaving the district, one way or another,” Elorza said. He said Peters did not say if he plans to submit his resignation to the R.I. Department of Education, which controls the school district.
Peters also did not show up to Wednesday night’s Providence School Board meeting, where he was scheduled to have a performance review.
The superintendent has been under fire for hiring Dr. Olayinka Alege, a former colleague of his in Florida who had previously been accused of “popping” boys’ toes at a Tampa high school.
Peters acknowledged during a Senate oversight hearing Monday that he knew about the allegations before hiring Alege, but did not notify the hiring committee or Infante-Green. He confronted Alege about them and was satisfied with his response and the references he received from Florida, where no charges were filed in the toe-popping incident.
But less than a year into his tenure as Providence’s network superintendent, Alege was arrested by Warwick Police, accused of taking an underage boy’s shoe off at a gym and forcibly massaging his bare foot.
Calls for Peters to resign have been mounting, with several city councilors, senators and the teachers union president calling for him to step down over the last several days.
On Monday night, Infante-Green’s office said she had not asked Peters to resign “at this time,” but she met with Gov. Dan McKee about the matter on Tuesday. The state currently controls Providence schools, after taking the district over due to poor performance in 2019.
“As the governor said yesterday, we must do what is best for the students.” McKee’s spokesperson said Wednesday morning. “Asking for the superintendent’s resignation was the right thing to do.”
Infante-Green hired Peters to be the state turnaround superintendent, spearheading the effort to improve the school system. His hiring of Alege was part of a restructuring of the district’s administration last year.
It is not immediately clear whether Infante-Green plans terminate Peters if he does not step down. Her office said she was is out today for a pre-planned medical procedure.
Peters’ three-year contract goes until Feb. 2023, and does allow for termination for cause, which would result in no compensation. Termination without cause would require the district to pay him his salary and benefits for a year.
His starting salary was $225,000 a year, with 3% increases each year, a car allowance and other benefits.
Prior to the state takeover, the Providence School Board had the power to hire and fire superintendents, but those powers were removed when the state took control.
“I think we would’ve had a termination hearing in June of 2020,” Providence School Board President Nick Hemond remarked on Wednesday. “It would never have gotten this far.”
But he said he still has confidence in Infante-Green, despite the fact that she didn’t take that step herself when she found out about the situation after Alege’s hiring.
“The superintendent had the information and concealed it. That’s why he has to resign,” Hemond said. “The commissioner, I don’t think, has committed that same lapse of judgment.”
Hemond expressed frustration during Wednesday night’s meeting over how Peters could look past Alege’s explanation of the incident.
“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 said. “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 concluded their meeting by unanimously voting “no confidence” in Peter’s leadership.
Elorza also criticized the “slow pace” of the state turnaround on Wednesday, telling reporters the state should make changes to the teachers contract and then give the schools back to the city.
Elorza supported the state taking over control of the schools in 2019.
“We brought the state in with the explicit idea, with the explicit purpose of invoking their powers under the Crowley Act to radically transform the PTU contract,” Elorza said. “That needs to be done ASAP.”