Providence Students to R.I. Lawmakers: Repair Our Schools
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Forty Providence high school students rallied at the State House Wednesday to demand money to repair school buildings they say are unfit for learning and, at times, unsafe.
Members of the Providence Student Union, a student-led activist group, called for an end to the statewide moratorium on school construction, now in its third year. Wearing yellow hard hats, students described school buildings with leaky roofs, broken toilets, asbestos, pigeons roosting in the rafters, and in one school, a resident rat. They called on lawmakers to make this a priority during the current legislative session.
The student rally occurred on the same day that the House Finance Committee listened to testimony on the state K-12 education budget. Governor Raimondo's budget calls for the creation of a school building authority fund to support new school construction, starting with $20 million.
Even Classical High School, the crown jewel of the Providence school system, is in sorry condition, students said.
"In the girls' bathroom, the number of broken toilets and the horrible stench would appall you," said Taiwo Demola, a freshman. "If you were to come on a rainy day, you better steer clear of the many buckets under the dripping ceiling. It's not even possible to count the number of ceiling pieces that have fallen."
Citing a 2013 report by the state Department of Education, students reported:
— The average age of a school building is 60 years.
— Twelve Providence schools are classified as needing major renovations.
— It would cost more than $300 million to repair Rhode Island schools in the worst condition.
— Research has shown that the condition of school buildings has a direct impact on academic performance.
Brendan Caprio, a sophomore at Hope High School, recalls watching ceiling tiles fall during his freshman orientation. Administrators shouted, "We have to evacuate this area."
Carlos Ledee said there is a rat living in a classroom at Mount Pleasant High School. The bathroom smells and lacks mirrors. The bathroom doors are broken.
"If I go every day to a school that is unrepaired and worn-out, why should I try to learn?" he said. "The school is telling me that I should be broken, too."
Students were joined by Providence Supt. Susan Lusi, Providence School Board President Keith Oliveira and several members of the General Assembly, including state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, one of the co-founders of the Providence Student Union, along with Zach Maczera.
Hope High School English teacher Laura Maxwell said there are times when the building simply isn't safe. She described a school-wide evacuation caused by a wire that had shorted out, a stream of human waste pouring down a bathroom wall and rooms that no one uses because of asbestos.
"Addressing our buildings' problems one disaster at a time is not cost-effective … ," Maxwell said. "If the entire budget for our school facilities is spent only on crisis management, then we need to reevaluate our claim that education matters."