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Students, Advocates, and State Reach Agreement on Improving Civics Education in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, RI — The plaintiffs in Cook v. McKee joined Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and jointly announced today that they will establish a Rhode Island Civic Readiness Task Force to consider specific measures to strengthen civics education in Rhode Island.

In addition, the Commissioner announced that she will establish a Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness to be awarded to graduating high school seniors who have completed a capstone project involving both research and active community involvement and have achieved high degrees of civics proficiency, as well as a civics award program that local education agencies (LEAs) can use to recognize middle school students who have demonstrated outstanding progress in civic readiness.

As a result of these agreements, plaintiffs did not file a petition for certiorari and attempt to appeal the dismissal of their suit by the First Circuit Court of Appeals to the United States Supreme Court. Cook v. McKee was a class action suit against the State of Rhode Island in which plaintiffs alleged that the State had breached their rights under the United States Constitution by failing to provide them with an adequate education in civics.

“Our children deserve an education that will prepare them to lead full, rich lives both professionally and as citizens of our democracy,” said Commissioner Infante-Green. “The students involved in this case have gone above and beyond in advocating for their peers to get that type of education, and we are glad to be able to partner with them. Together, we are going to make Rhode Island a national example of excellence in civics education.

Mealaktey Sok, a plaintiff in the case who was in high school when the case was filed said, "Youth are not only the leaders of the future, but also the leaders of today. Investing in youth and equitable access to education, is to also invest and optimize the possibilities of tomorrow. And this starts with students being at the decision making table. I am excited to see the changes and conversations that will take place through the Task Force. I am honored to play a part in bringing this lawsuit and improving education in Rhode Island for generations to come."

The Task Force, which will be created no later than September 1, 2022 and will be staffed by the Rhode Island Department of Education, will consist of a maximum of fifteen (15) members to be selected by the Commissioner from a broad array of stakeholders, including educators, parents, community members, students and advocacy organizations, as well as some of the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit and their counsel.

The Civic Readiness Task Force will be charged with advising the Commissioner concerning:

  • The advisability of adding a half credit course in civics in grades 8 and high school which would focus upon media literacy so students can learn to effectively utilize the internet and social media;
  • Methods and resources to support students in how to have respectful conversations on controversial issues with individuals having different views from their own, to be shared with LEAs, and ways to include hands-on instruction on voter registration that will also be provided to LEAs;
  • Implementation of the Commissioner’s Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness for high school graduates and civics award program for middle school students;
  • The development of a specific definition of “civic readiness” – to include civic knowledge, civic skills (including media literacy skills), civic experiences and civic mindsets;
  • Implementation of the requirement in the 2021 Civic Literacy Act that every school district provide one student-led civics project for students during either middle or high school; and
  • Such other recommendations as the Task Force members may deem advisable.

The Task Force will be expected to submit an initial report and recommendations to the Commissioner by March 31, 2023.