PARTIES AGREE ON CIVIC EDUCATION IMPROVEMENTS IN R.I., ENDING FEDERAL LITIGATION

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PARTIES AGREE ON CIVIC EDUCATION IMPROVEMENTS IN R.I., ENDING FEDERAL LITIGATION

The plaintiffs in Cook v. McKee joined Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green in jointly announcing on June 15 that they will establish a Rhode Island Civic Readiness Task Force to consider specific measures to improve the quality of civics education in Rhode Island. 

In addition, the Commissioner announced that she will establish a Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness to be awarded to graduating high school seniors who have completed a capstone project involving both research and active community involvement and have achieved high degrees of civics proficiency, as well as a civics award program that local education agencies (LEAs) can use to recognize middle school students who have demonstrated outstanding progress in civic readiness. 

As a result of these commitments, plaintiffs agreed not to proceed with filing a petition for certiorari and attempt to appeal the dismissal of their suit by the First Circuit Court of Appeals to the United States Supreme Court. Cook v. McKee was a class action suit against the State of Rhode Island in which plaintiffs alleged that the State had breached their rights under the United States Constitution by failing to provide them with an education adequate to prepare them to become capable citizens. 

“Our children deserve an education that will prepare them to lead full, rich lives both professionally and as citizens of our democracy,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green. “The students involved in this case have gone above and beyond in advocating for their peers to get that type of education, and we are glad to be able to partner with them. Together, we are going to make Rhode Island a national example of excellence in civics education.”

Michael A. Rebell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and executive director of the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, said, “As Judge Smith boldly stated in his decision in this case, ‘American democracy is in peril,’ and it is critical that all of our students are prepared to function as capable civic participants in order to sustain our democracy. We are pleased that the Commissioner has recognized this need and is committing to working with this important task force to accomplish this goal. We hope that other states will now take similar actions.”

The Task Force, which will be created no later than September 1, 2022 and will be staffed by the Rhode Island Department of Education, will consist of a maximum of fifteen (15) members to be selected by the Commissioner from a broad array of stakeholders, including educators, parents, community members, students and advocacy organizations, as well as some of the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit and their counsel.  

The Civic Readiness Task Force will be charged with advising the Commissioner concerning:

  • The advisability of adding a half credit course in civics in grades 8 and high school which would focus upon media literacy so students can learn to effectively utilize the internet and social media;
  • Methods and resources to support students in how to have respectful conversations on controversial issues with individuals having different views from their own, to be shared with LEAs, and ways to include hands-on instruction on voter registration that will also be provided to LEAs;
  • Implementation of the Commissioner’s Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness for high school graduates and civics award program for middle school students; 
  • The development of a specific definition of “civic readiness” – to include civic knowledge, civic skills (including media literacy skills), civic experiences and civic mindsets; 
  • Implementation of the requirement in the 2021 Civic Literacy Act that every school district provide one student-led civics project for students during either middle or high school; and
  • Such other recommendations as the Task Force members may deem advisable.

The Task Force will be expected to submit an initial report and recommendations to the Commissioner by March 31, 2023.



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