R.I. Students Seek Constitutional Right to Education for Civic Participation
On November 29, 2018, a class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of Rhode Island students to establish a right under the U.S. Constitution to an education adequate to prepare all students to function productively as civic participants.
The case, Cook (A.C.) v. Raimondo, argues that the Constitution entitles all students to an education that prepares them to participate effectively in a democracy. It alleges that the state of Rhode Island is failing to provide tens of thousands of students throughout the state with the necessary basic education and civic-participation skills.
The plaintiffs are 14 high school, middle school, elementary school, and preschool students (or parents on behalf of their children). These students attend or will attend public schools in a variety of school districts throughout Rhode Island.
Plaintiffs are represented by a legal team led by Michael A. Rebell, professor of law and educational practice, and executive director of the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University. Rebell is an experienced litigator who was lead attorney in the successful New York school-funding and educational-rights case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York. He has written many books on education law, including the recently published, Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts and Civic Participation.
RI-based co-counsel are Jennifer L. Wood, executive director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice, and Stephen Robinson and Samuel D. Zurier, who were counsel for plaintiffs in the two prior state court litigations that sought to establish a right to education under the Rhode Island state constitution.
The legal team claims that the defendants, state officials including RI governor Gina Raimondo, continuously violate the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause “by denying [students] a meaningful opportunity to obtain a basic education necessary to prepare them to be capable voters and jurors, to exercise effectively their right of free speech and other constitutional rights, to participate effectively and intelligently in our open political system and to function productively as civic participants.”