The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rights of Students

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rights of Students

Most people’s first major encounter with the government is in the school setting. For students to appreciate the importance of civil liberties, it is critical that their rights be practiced and protected in that setting.

2016: Federal Hill Capital v. City of Providence

Category: Active Case  Discrimination  Due Process  Students' Rights  


About This Case:
This is a lawsuit against the City of Providence challenging a city ordinance that prohibits more than three “college students” from living together in certain areas of the city.  The lawsuit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, is on behalf of the owner and tenants of a house in the Elmhurst section of Providence. The suit argues that the ordinance violates the plaintiffs’ rights to due process and equal protection of the law.

Current Status:
In March 2017, we filed a motion for summary judgment and memorandum of law explaining why the court should declare the ordinance unconstitutional.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Jeffrey L. Levy, Charles D. Blackman

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2015: J.A. v. Town of Tiverton

Category: Due Process  Privacy  Students' Rights  


About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against Tiverton police and school officials over an incident in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, had her belongings searched, was taken alone to the police station without her parents’ knowledge, and then held and questioned at the police station for several hours before being released. The seizure, detention, and interrogation of the young child were based solely on unsubstantiated claims from another child that the girl was carrying “chemicals” in her backpack, and occurred even after the police found nothing suspicious in the backpack.

Current Status:
Lawsuit successfully settled in June 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Amato A. DeLuca, Miriam Weizenbaum

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2014: Brown v. Cylke

Category: Open Government  Students' Rights  

This is an open records lawsuit against the Pawtucket School District for its failure to respond to an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request relating to the district's wavier policy from the state "high stakes testing" requirement. 

 

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2013: Egan v. RI Board of Education

Category: Open Government  Students' Rights  

This is an open meetings lawsuit against the R.I. Board of Education over its plans in August of 2013 to meet in a private retreat, closed to the public and the media, in order to hear from invited “experts” on the issue of its “high stakes testing” requirement for high school seniors. The ACLU argued that allowing such a private meeting would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.  In issuing a preliminary injunction against the planned private discussion of the issue, R.I. Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini agreed with the ACLU that allowing such a discussion to take place in private would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.

More information about the issue of high stakes testing can be found here.

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2013: Providence Student Union v. RI Board of Education

Category: Open Government  Students' Rights  

This is a lawsuit in R.I. Superior Court over the R.I. Board of Education’s (BOE) failure to consider a petition filed by seventeen organizations to do away with the Board’s “high stakes testing” graduation requirement. The lawsuit argues that the Board had an obligation under state law, which it ignored, to consider the proposal and either reject it or initiate a formal rule-making process to consider its adoption.  

Cooperating Attorneys: Marc Gursky and Elizabeth Wiens

More information about high stakes testing can be found here.

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2012: Dowd v. Town of Narragansett

Category: Due Process  Students' Rights  

A lawsuit against the Town of Narragansett on behalf of three URI pharmacy graduate students who have received tickets for parking their cars overnight on their street even though they have a permit to do so.  The town agreed to reinstate the permits, reimburse fines that had been imposed against them, and pay attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorney: H. Jefferson Melish

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2010: Lopera v. Town of Coventry

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  Students' Rights  

“Friend of the court” brief challenging the constitutionality of a police search conducted on student athletes leaving a soccer match, based solely on the coach’s consent.

2010: Boyer v. Jeremiah

Category: Due Process  Fair Administration of Justice  Students' Rights  Youth Rights  

A class-action lawsuit charging that the state’s truancy court system is devoid of due process protections in violation of state and federal law. Filed in the Rhode Island Superior Court against a number of state family court judges and officials of six school districts including Providence, the lawsuit charges that the truancy courts are frequently punitive in nature, and that truancy court magistrates threaten vulnerable children and their parents with baseless fines and imprisonment, remove children from the custody of their parents without legal justification and fail to keep adequate records of court hearings. The lawsuit also charges that the court system disproportionately impacts children who have difficulty attending school or doing their schoolwork because of special education or medical needs.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction requiring an initial investigation of truancy charges before petitions are filed; the transcribing or reporting of all truancy court proceedings; and that the court be barred from issuing orders against students and parents over whom it has no jurisdiction. The lawsuit also seeks final declaratory and injunctive relief requiring that court and school officials abide by federal state and constitutional and state statutory law.

Cooperating Attorneys: Amy R. Tabor and Thomas W. Lyons (with Robin L. Dahlberg and Yelena Konanova of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, and Deborah N. Archer of New York Law School)

Misc. Court Documents:

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2008: URI Student Senate v. Town of Narragansett

Category: Due Process  Students' Rights  

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of an ordinance which allows police to charge tenants and landlords with allowing, and to place orange stickers on houses that have allegedly been the site of, “unruly gatherings.”

Cooperating Attorney: H. Jefferson Melish

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2007: Jessica G. v. Westerly School Department

Category: Students' Rights  

“Friend of the court” brief in R.I. Supreme Court challenging the lack of due process safeguards in truancy court hearings. The appeal was dismissed as moot when the lower court agreed to dismiss the appellant from the jurisdiction of the court.

Cooperating Attorney: Amy R. Tabor

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2006: Women’s Studies Organization of RIC v. Rhode Island College

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  Students' Rights  Women's Rights  

Favorably settled lawsuit challenging a college’s censorship of a campus sign display sponsored by a student women’s rights group.

2006: Agin v. Portsmouth School Committee

Category: Students' Rights  

Lawsuit challenging a high school principal’s decision, on “zero tolerance” grounds, to ban a student from appearing in medieval garb and holding a prop broadsword for his senior yearbook photo. At the court’s request, the matter was referred to the state Commissioner of Education, who ruled in favor of the student.

Cooperating Attorneys: Thomas Connolly, George Lieberman

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2002: In re: C.H.

Category: Students' Rights  

Defense of a student charged in a wayward petition with “disorderly conduct” after he drew on a piece of paper in school a picture of a stick figure with a dynamite device blowing up the building; the charge was filed.

2000: Parent v. School Committee of the Town of Johnston

Category: Free Speech  Students' Rights  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging the summary suspension of a high school student based solely on the content of a “free write” composition.

1998: Parker v. School Committee of the Town of Westerly

Category: Free Speech  Students' Rights  

Successful administrative challenge to the suspension of a high school student for wearing a rock band T-shirt with the numerals “666” on it.

1997: Goncalves and Lee v. Pawtucket School Committee

Category: Students' Rights  

Administrative appeal to the state Commissioner of Education seeking to overturn the 10-day “zero tolerance” suspensions imposed on two Pawtucket first grade students for having a toy ray gun in school; favorably settled.

1995: Anderson v. Cumberland School Committee

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  Students' Rights  

Successful administrative appeal on behalf of high school students suspended for demonstrating in front of the school in opposition to a new dress code.

1993: Michaud v. Middletown School Committee

Category: Students' Rights  

Successful representation before state Board of Regents of student challenging a grade reduction given him because of an unexpected absence.

1992: Chreim v. Board of Governors for Higher Education

Category: Students' Rights  

Favorably settled suit on behalf of URI student denied in-state tuition residency status solely because he had not lived in-state for one year before enrolling.

1988: Lyman v. Kellner

Category: Students' Rights  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit on behalf of students barred from extra-curricular activities for refusing to sign an oath condemning drug and alcohol use.

1986: Quadrino and Rice v. Warwick School Committee

Category: Students' Rights  

Favorably settled administrative appeal challenging a school dress code barring students from wearing shorts or sleeveless blouses to school.

1977: In re: Johnston School Athletic Program

Category: Discrimination  Gender Discrimination  Students' Rights  

Favorably settled Title IX complaint alleging that the school provided unequal athletic opportunity and facilities for girls.

1975: Gluckman v. Sheehan

Category: Students' Rights  

Successful federal suit on behalf of a student punished for remaining quietly seated while the Pledge of Allegiance was recited in class.