Lawsuit filed against PVD Public Schools and RIDE to protect multilingual learners from 360 High School closing

0
2421

“This school is very special for our family and it is worth fighting for,” said Maria Pirir, the mother of a 360 High School student. “I am standing up for the children.”

From a Rhode Island Center for Justice press release:

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Multilingual Learner students and their parents to prevent the closing of the 360 High School in Providence. Spanish-speaking students who attend the school and their families are asking the Federal Court to protect their right to the exceptionally supportive and inclusive education they receive at 360 High School and the unprecedented language access the school provides them as Multilingual learners.

The suit asserts that closing the school violates the federal Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974. This civil rights law protects Multilingual students and their families in the public schools. It requires that school districts make affirmative efforts to support equal educational opportunity and to remove barriers to language access for Multilingual Learner students and their families. Since 2018, when Providence was cited by the Department of Justice for violating this law, the Providence schools have been under the oversight of the DOJ for failing to meet the needs of Multilingual Learners and their families. Compounding the Providence schools’ history of violating this law, these Multilingual Learner students and their families now find that they need to fight to preserve the responsive student and family-centered education they receive at 360 High School.

“I am asking the judge to protect my son and the other students. My son has special needs and I didn’t feel safe sending him to school before he started at 360 High School,” said Maria Pirir, the mother of a 360 High School student. “At other schools, there were only one or two people who could communicate with me about my son’s education. At 360 High School, I can speak with the entire team who works with my son. All the meetings are in Spanish. My son has made tremendous progress in language and with his physical disabilities while at 360 High School. He does not do well with changes and if the school is closed his progress will be seriously harmed. He wants to know why he can’t go to the school he loves and where he is succeeding. This school is very special for our family and it is worth fighting for. I am standing up for the children.”

All of the named plaintiffs are immigrant families who chose 360 High School for their children because they learned that the school offers exceptional support to Spanish-speaking students and their families. They are fighting for the right to have their children attend a school that they selected and that has embraced and supported their children’s learning; a school where they are included as full partners in their children’s education.

On state-administered annual surveys, families rate 360 High School much higher than other Providence high schools for family support, family communication, family engagement, cultural awareness, school safety, school climate, and special education services. Multilingual students who attend 360 High School rate school climate, safety, belonging, student-teacher relationships, social-emotional learning, school rigorous expectations, and college and career readiness higher than Multilingual language students in all other Providence high schools.

“When our family went through two serious health crises during my son’s first year at 360 High School, the administrators and faculty at the school supported my son and our family every day,” said Ysaura Mezón, the mother of a 360 High School 10th grader. “They provided complete support and kept my son’s education from going off course during this difficult time. They don’t only support my son but our entire family completely. The open communication and deep caring that they showed to our family made it possible for my son to succeed in his education when we were facing a crisis. The school community has given us the trust and confidence we need for my son to continue to succeed in his education. He is now planning for college and his future in ways that would have been impossible without the special support he gets at 360 High School. I am fighting for his right to go to 360 High School to protect his future.”

Spanish-speaking students and families feel fully included and experience a lack of barriers to language access at 360 High School which is unique in their experience in Providence Public Schools. Multilingual learner students and their families have opposed the closing of the school at public hearings of the Providence School Board, the Providence City Council, the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, and the General Assembly, but the school district and the Department of Education have been unwilling to reconsider the closing of the school. The closing of 360 High School was announced in an “emergency meeting” without warning or community involvement. This lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the state and school district to reverse the decision to close the school and to require the defendants to include current students, families, and educators who are directly affected in a plan to preserve the uniquely supportive and language-accessible school environment that the students and their families have at 360 High School.

The suit was filed on behalf of the students and families by Rhode Island Center for Justice attorneys Jennifer Wood and John Karwashan. The complaint asks the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action and to order the school district and state Department of Education to protect the equal educational opportunities of these Multilingual students and families by reversing the decision to close the school.

“Federal law prohibits school officials from taking actions that harm Multilingual learners and their families and that impose barriers to their equal educational opportunity,” said Rhode Island Center for Justice executive director Jennifer Wood. “We have learned from our clients that 360 High School is providing exceptional educational support and unprecedented language access to their multilingual children and these families. Closing 360 High School with no plan for protecting the unique school climate, culture, and equal educational opportunities that these families have found in this school is a failure by the school district to fulfill their legal obligations to these students and their families.”

This story originally appeared in Steve Ahlquist’s Substack, April 23, 2024

Steve Ahlquist is a progressive reporter based in Providence, Rhode Island. His work has appeared in Rhode Island Future and UpriseRI.