What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 5/13-5/17 - News from The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, ACLU of Rhode Island News, RIACLU News

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What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 5/13-5/17

Posted: May 20, 2019|

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In the debates over making our public schools safer, inclusive, and more academically enriching, it’s critical to consider how measures which appear to be innocuous can significantly impact civil liberties. Many times, proposed solutions can actually widen disparities and inflict harm on students and schools that are already marginalized.

Last week, the House and Senate heard testimony on packages of bills which present a comprehensive overhaul of the public education system in Rhode Island. A bill was also heard in House Finance which would provide a reimbursement program for schools that choose to hire new School Resource Officers (SROs). Both of these hearings demonstrated how civil liberties needs to be in the forefront of the conversation to facilitate true educational equity and achievement.


Education Reform In response to faltering test scores and a deepening need to address low student achievement, the House and Senate collaboratively introduced a package of legislation proposing to overhaul the public education system in Rhode Island. With topics ranging from teacher and principal certification to reporting requirements for the schools, this legislation showed room for improvement.

H 6098, H 6100, S 866, and S 867 all contain a provision that aspiring teachers be of “sound moral character.” We expressed concern about the value-laden and open-ended nature of this requirement.

H 6100, S 866, and S 867 would additionally require the applicant to take and pass a standardized written test. The ACLU has long expressed concerns about the imposition of a statutory requirement for teacher standardized testing. Not only do we believe that such testing is flawed as a method for determining teacher competency and skills, will have a significant and adverse impact on racial minorities. For these reasons, the state banned this practice until 2003 and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Positively, however, H 6098, introduced by Representative Karen Alzate, contains a provision which would explicitly bar a teacher certification applicant from being disqualified solely by their performance on a standardized test. We believe that this language is critical in order to effectively address the need for minority teachers in our public schools.

We also noted that both S 865 and H 6084 could benefit from minor amendments which would add benchmarks such as race, gender, and disability to the reporting requirements mandated by the legislation.


School Resource Officer Funding (H 5370) Despite a noted lack of counseling staff and behavioral health services in public schools, proposals to increase school safety tend to arrive back at the same “solution”: increasing SROs on campus. The ACLU opposed H 5370 which would do just this by indefinitely extending a reimbursement program for school districts that choose to hire additional SROs. We testified that a reimbursement program could incentivize the funneling of critical financial resources into law enforcement rather than sorely needed mental health programs, and that increased disciplinary and enforcement protocol and personnel on campuses will disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students.

Despite the intentions behind the legislation, without the consideration of civil liberties these bills could ultimately provide more barriers than improvements in the pursuit of high-achieving public education.

For a look at the session as a whole, and to see the other legislation that we have testified on, visit our legislative page.

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