Rhode Island parents, on behalf of students, filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island late Wednesday alleging the state of Rhode Island has not upheld its constitutional responsibility to prepare students to be informed citizens.
The complaint looks for an answer to the question raised in the 1973 US Supreme Court case San Antonio Ind’t Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez regarding whether the Fourteenth Amendment secures the right of students to have “the basic minimal skills necessary for the enjoyment of the rights of speech and of full participation in the political process.” The complaint cites other notable cases such as the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in support of a proper civic education where the court held “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. … It is the very foundation of good citizenship.”
The parents and students offered statistics from a 2014 civics exam by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showing that only 23 percent of eighth graders taking the test attained the “proficiency” level. It is alleged that Rhode Island has failed to meet its duty by not requiring students take civics courses, having no state examinations regarding civics, having the position of social studies specialist in the state education department vacant, having no requirement for social studies teachers to have training in American government, and many more allegations of shortcomings in civics education and standards.
The plaintiffs hope the court will recognize the constitutional right to an education that prepares students to be effective citizens and order educators to implement programs that pursue that purpose.