Centering youth voice and power in Providence

By Anna Byon

On August 8, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) issued a preliminary order to take over the Providence Public School District (PPSD) in an effort to improve the city’s schools. Under the takeover, RIDE would take control of PPSD’s budget, program, and personnel for three years or longer to implement a Turnaround Plan. As it currently stands, the 122-page draft order fails to meaningfully engage students and parents in the takeover process—even though youth and families have the most at stake in the success of the district.

That’s why last week, the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE), SEARAC’s SAVE partner, along with many other community organizations, students, and parents in Providence, filed a legal motion to RIDE demanding that a clear plan for the district be shared with the public before the state implements anything.

“As the state moves to take over the Providence schools, it is essential that the state formally centers the voices of students and parents who are in this system. A state takeover offers one potential avenue to address the huge, systemic shortcomings of the Providence schools: but this will only work if the state listens to, responds to, and amplifies the voices of students and parents,” said Chanda Womack, Executive Director of ARISE. “To that end, ARISE — along with our partners at the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Youth in Action (YIA), the Providence Student Union (PSU), and many students and parents — filed a motion to intervene today with the RI Department of Education (RIDE) asking for an updated plan. A plan to be informed by the community, a plan that is clear, a plan that is transparent and accountable and to be shared with the public before it is implemented.”

The legal motion includes two key demands: that PPSD students and their parents have a legal right to participate in decisions about the takeover; and that RIDE must put formal, enforceable mechanisms for accountability, transparency, and community inclusion in the takeover plan.

Rhode Island is home to more than 12,000 Southeast Asian Americans, and SEARAC is humbled to see SEAA youth at the forefront of the incredible mobilization of young people, families, and community organizations to demand educational justice that centers student power. If you are a Providence community member:

Anna Byon is SEARAC’s Education Policy Advocate and can be reached at anna@searac.org.