RI ACLU issues statement on student walkout punishment

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The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stepped into the debate over the fairness of a three-hour detention received by students who participated in a walkout protest two weeks, raising First Amendment questions and calling for Warwick Schools to make information on punishment protocols public.

A representative from the organization told the Beacon that it was prompted to make a statement after being contacted by someone in the city. The statement, here in full, was issued on Monday.

“The ACLU of Rhode Island has no independent information about the typical practices of Warwick school officials in punishing students for cutting class. But if, as some pupils and teachers have alleged, the three-hour detention imposed on students for walking out of school to protest school district special education practices is greater than the punishment normally given students for cutting class, serious First Amendment concerns are presented. Students cannot be given harsher punishment for missing a class in order to engage in a political protest than would be given if they were caught hanging out across the street at a McDonald’s.

“In order to address these allegations, the school district’s practices regarding punishment for cutting class should be made public so that any concerns about unfair treatment can be rebutted. However, if these students have indeed been the recipients of harsher punishment, the discipline should be removed from their school records. Otherwise, the school district will be giving students a very wrong lesson about the meaning of the First Amendment.”

More than 100 students participated in the protest held right before the winter break. The students said they walked out of their classrooms to protest in front of the Warwick Public Schools Administration Building on Warwick Avenue to show their support for special education students after the School Committee declined to endorse a resolution passed by the City Council that advocated for a third party investigation into special education separate from the State Department of Education review that’s in the works.

Zach Colon, the Toll Gate senior who organized the protest, said he was “extremely excited” by RIACLU’s involvement and thought making punishment practices public was a good idea.

“I would love to see the WSD make their disciplinary practices public, as I was not even shown them when I was given my punishment,” he said.

Though he had said last week that he thought the punishment was fitting, he’s since changed his mind after learning more information about disciplinary actions taken at schools.

“At the time I had not seen so many teachers say that the first offense for skipping class is a verbal warning,” he said. “Like I said, this is my first offense and first time getting in trouble, so at the time I really didn't know. It was excessive.”

In response to the ACLU statement, Superintendent Philip Thornton said he would “urge and caution that individuals get the facts” on the event.

“The facts are that leaving school grounds [a student safety issue] has resulted in a three-hour Friday detention,” Thornton said in an email on Monday. “Principal Gerry Habershaw, principal of Pilgrim High School and veteran administrator in the district, confirms that this is the consequence.”

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richardcorrente

In 1972 I took part in a "sit-in" (sitting on the grass outside and refusing to go to class inside) as a protest to the Vietnam War. I remember that some of the students sent around a petition asking that the day not be held against us as an "absentee day", thus preserving our attendance records. I refused to sign it because a protest wouldn't be a protest if we were simply given the day off.

The same applies here. The students should be proud of their peaceful protest. They should (and it seems that they are) accept their punishment as the fair price they had to pay to get their point across. Other leaders (Ali, Gandhi, King) gave much more. ( I watched on TV when they interviewed Mohammad Ali who surrendered his heavy weight boxing championship belt rather than submit to the draft)

Now, we should put this whole thing behind us and get to the job of fixing the teachers contract, one that addresses special education as well as the many other issues.

Everyone, including the ALCU is now watching. Get to the negotiating table School Committee, damn it! And this time, don't get up to leave until you have a contract. The teachers deserve it. The parents deserve it. The taxpayers deserve it. And, most importantly, the students really, really deserve it. They are paying the biggest price. Our student population is continuing to shrink and it is the School Committee's job to reverse that. Folks, you're not doing your job. We keep losing teachers AND students. Get to work on a new contract, damn it! The one-class-walkout was not a "cause". It was an "effect". In the "cause-and-effect" of the matter we should be correcting the "cause" which was the "special education practices", not the 2 hour protest "effect".

Happy 2017 everyone.

Rick Corrente

Tuesday, January 10 | Report this
Thecaptain

Once again Mr. Corrente chimes in with an example that is completely non applicable to the situation at hand. Mr. Corrente clearly does not understand the inherent term "In Loco Parentis". The term in loco parentis, Latin for "in the place of a parent"[1] refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. Further, it allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit, although not allowing what would be considered violations of the students' civil liberties. No civil liberties were effected. The students could have had the dumb walk out but remain on the grounds. If in fact a student had been hit by a car and killed the school department and the city would have been crucified.

Mr. Corrente, with each posting that you make you show further evidence of your complete lack of knowledge of any basic understanding of simple principles. I am astounded how you continue to post comments which clearly are knee jerk reactions, with no thought whatsoever put into them, let alone fact or research, or liable implications to the city taxpayers. If you did that at Bishop Hendricken you would sustain a 5 night detention, called a misconduct. Then when you got home you would get further ramifications from your parents. Hence, that kind of crap doesn't happen. I really wish that you would stop inciting nonsense and pay your debts of unpaid taxes to the city of Warwick, and further, pay your debts of civil litigation that the courts have made judgement against you. For example, in the case of Nicole Gagne in the amount of $1950.00 and in the case of Donna Ponte for $1215.00. You have the nerve to comment on the schools , pay the teachers more, yet you fail to pay your own taxes and your legal debts. Shameful.

Tuesday, January 10 | Report this
JohnStark

Further evidence that, if the ACLU defends it, it was likely a bad idea. Hey Captain, can't you just envision a "walkout" which entailed bypassing Mr. Hickey and Brother Loftus. Good luck with that. You had too much Fear and Respect for those men, something clearly and severely lacking in contemporary environs.

Tuesday, January 10 | Report this
davebarry109

The ACLU has no business interjecting here and should be ignored. Too many public entities and officials give the ACLU say in their business.

Wednesday, January 11 | Report this
ThatGuyInRI

Doesn't the ACLU have any real issues to tackle, good God!

Bottom line, the kids cut class,they got detention, that's the way it works.

Please note that the kids were so dedicated to their "cause" that they were willing to give up class time for it. Imagine if it were only important enough to give up their free time...

Wednesday, January 11 | Report this