The final dismissal for students, teachers, and families at Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School in Providence on Friday, June 23, 2023, at 3:30 p.m. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — The City Council is considering a move that would require the Rhode Island Department of Education and Providence Public School District to release records related to the closing of three public schools in the past four years and any others going forward.
A resolution, introduced by Ward 1 Councilman John Gonçalves seeks to have state and school officials 48 hours to release to the council all communications related to school closings since the 2019 state takeover of Providence schools. The council unanimously agreed to send the resolution to the ordinance committee for discussion and recommendation.
According to the resolution, the council wants “all dates, agendas, minutes, and lists of meeting attendees of all meetings in which the closure of any Providence Public school was discussed since the state takeover.”
Gonçalves, who represents the Fox Point neighborhood, said he introduced the resolution out of concern for parents and families at two Washington Park schools — Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School on Broad Street and Carl G. Lauro Elementary School on Kenyon Street. The parents have said they were not consulted regarding the decision to close the schools at the end of the 2022 to 2023 school year.
The City Council voted on June 27 to approve a 25-year lease agreement with Achievement First Promesa Elementary School for the former Charles N. Fortes Elementary School on Daboll Street in the West End. The move exacerbated fears among Feinstein and Lauro families that the closures would make room for more-selective charter schools, possibly forcing them to attend schools outside their neighborhood.
“Families, teachers and students deserve utmost transparency around what is happening with their schools and, most importantly, why schools that were previously slated to receive significant funding are now closing,” said Gonçalves, who is also a candidate in the Democratic Primary for Congressional District 1, in a text message to Rhode Island Current.
“If community and families were truly engaged in the process, they should at a minimum be able to readily produce the minutes of who was a part of these meetings and when these school closures were discussed.”
“The decision to close schools is a state decision,” said Joshua Estrella, spokesman for Mayor Brett Smiley, when asked for comment on the resolution. “As the mayor has mentioned, moving forward, he is focused on ensuring that in the coming months we conduct a transparent and competitive bidding process to determine future use of these city buildings.”
In an emailed statement to Rhode Island Current, a RIDE spokeswoman said the agency and PPSD have been transparent in the process of school closures and complied with state open meeting law.
“RIDE and PPSD look forward to highlighting major investments made possible by the overwhelming city support of Providence school construction bonds,” said Ashley Cullinane, RIDE’s executive associate for communications and community engagement.
Minutes from meetings of the Providence School Building Committee were available to the public via the Rhode Island Open Meetings Portal, Cullinane said.
“Broad Street and Lauro families were made aware that in addition to the building conditions, a variety of other measures were considered, including declining enrollment at the schools, underutilization of the buildings, low selection by families, and lack of green space,” she said.
“While a difficult decision, PPSD is working to turn around decades of neglect and provide the education and school facilities our students have long deserved.“
Providence Public School District did not respond to a request for comment.
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