Just weeks after R.I. Superior Court Judge William Carnes denied a motion by Family Court Judges to dismiss the ACLU’s class-action lawsuit challenging various Truancy Court practices and procedures, the ACLU has amended its complaint in the case, adding four new school districts as defendants - East Providence, South Kingstown, Burrillville and Smithfield.
The ACLU’s lawsuit charges the that school districts fail to follow proper procedures in referring students to Truancy Court and disproportionately refer children who have special educational needs that the districts are not adequately addressing or medical needs that prevent the children from attending school or completing schoolwork. It further 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 amended complaint adds five parents and their children from the four school districts and describes in detail their troubling experiences with the Truancy Court program. According to ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Robin Dahlberg: “Since we filed this lawsuit in March, we have received literally dozens of complaints from other parents across the state about the way they and their children have been treated in Truancy Court. This amended complaint only highlights the systemic nature of the problems with the Court and the need for broad, system-wide relief.”
In the meantime, a hearing is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM before Judge Carnes on a motion by the Family Court judges to stay any further action in the case while they seek to appeal Judge Carnes’ earlier ruling allowing the case to proceed. A separate hearing is scheduled for Monday, November 8th on another motion by the judges to remove two National ACLU attorneys from the case because they made public comments about the lawsuit.
In addition to Attorney Dahlberg, the case is being handled by RI ACLU volunteer attorneys Thomas W. Lyons and Amy R. Tabor and Deborah N. Archer of New York Law School.