Motion to Intervene

Today, Providence Student Union joined students, families, youth organizations, and the Rhode Island Center for Justice calling for greater transparency and clarity of the role that youth and families will play in leading change in our public schools. This call came in the form of a legal "Motion to Intervene" filed with the Rhode Island Department of Education in advance of their takeover of the Providence Public School Department.

We want to explain our reasoning for joining this call for transparency.

We agree that the Providence schools need significant reforms—this has been the core of PSU’s mission for almost a decade. From our campaigns to expand transportation access and rebuild school facilities, to launching Ethnic Studies courses, to ending high-stakes testing—the students of PSU have been fighting for better schools since 2010. Our landmark “Student Bill of Rights,” launched in 2017, maps what students want in a safe, healthy, engaging, and empowering school system.

Over the years we’ve watched carefully as other cities tackled major reform. In many communities the state has locked the community out. They have held focus groups and listening sessions, but not given the community any authority in making decisions.

The results? Turmoil, division, fighting, and mistrust. In Philadelphia, the state takeover of the public schools lasted for 17 years. Our allies at Philadelphia Student Union fought for years to make sure the community had a decision-making power in this process. But the state locked them and others out, and instead closed over 30 schools, cut the budget by millions, handed over some schools to for-profit companies, and laid off critical school staff. The lack of nurses and health equipment in Philadelphia Schools were blamed for in-school deaths of two students. It’s a similar story in Newark, where families and youth struggled for a voice in their state-controlled school system for 22 years. Both districts recently came back under local control, and they are still picking up the pieces having missed a chance at real reform during state takeover.

Rhode Island doesn’t have to repeat the mistakes of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have joined other community groups to demand a clear role and authority for students, parents and teachers for three reasons:

  1. Students are the ones affected most.
    If the takeover goes wrong, it won’t be the adults and politicians who are harmed. Students deserve to know what will be enacted upon them, what they will have to live through every day.

  2. We need a transparent process with clear ways the community can hold the state accountable.
    The state is requesting control over the future of 24,000 youth, but it has presented no plan, no metrics for success, and no vision of a successful Providence school system. Our schools won’t improve if the work is done behind closed doors. No power without a plan.

  3. We need community leadership.
    Providence has a strong community of students, parents, and teachers ready to engage in this reform process, and RIDE should include community members in powerful leadership roles. Students in particular know what schools need, and we need to make sure that the plans and leadership of this schools takeover reflect their concerns and include them in decision-making. Unfortunately, RIDE has cut the community out of the hiring process for the turnaround superintendent, saying yesterday that, “Everyone thinks they know education, but here we are.” In contrast, we believe students, parents and teachers have a lot to add, and we should give them a real chance at improving their schools before we belittle their desire to be engaged.

We’re not against change. But we do want it to be the right change, and we want those changes to succeed. The only chance we have at bucking the national trend of failed district takeovers is to give the community real decision-making authority from the start.