In a decision issued late this afternoon, U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi has rejected claims that the City of Pawtucket has engaged in an unconstitutional practice of giving preferential treatment to parochial schools over public schools in granting permits for the use of city athletics fields. In 2009, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of seven Pawtucket parents and their children, who had complained to the City for years that one public field had been reserved almost exclusively for use by Saint Raphael Academy, a Catholic school, and that public junior high school teams were denied the use of other fields which had often been reserved for the use of private sectarian schools.
Lead plaintiff Maggi Rogers said today: “In a time when city officials are asking for even more sacrifices from our public school system, it is extremely disheartening to know that our resources will continue to be siphoned off by religious schools. Despite this ruling, I feel that this was a case that needed to be brought, and I continue to believe that city officials need to reexamine their practices that, in my view, have a discriminatory impact on our public school students. I and the other plaintiffs have been buoyed by the tremendous support we have received from many other Pawtucket residents and parents since this suit was filed, and we will continue to monitor the City’s activities.” RI ACLU executive director added: “We believe that we presented sufficient evidence to show a recurring practice by city officials of providing preferential treatment to religious schools. We are disappointed by the ruling, but we will be carefully reviewing it with the plaintiffs to determine next steps.”
A trial in the lawsuit, which was handled by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Sandra Lanni, was held in December. Copies of other documents in the case can be found here.