Rhode Island · School Talk

This Is Not What Public Service Looks Like in 2019

Last night was a much anticipated meeting of the Rhode Island State Board of Education meeting—it’s impossible to imagine that those in charge did not expect a large crowd. The agenda included a vote on whether or not to allow Angélica Infante Green, the state education commissioner, to take over the Providence Schools. But somehow, nobody thought ahead and took the proactive step of a) ensuring there would be a livestream of the meeting and b) ensuring that there would be enough room capacity for everyone who made the effort to attend to actually be allowed into the room.

There were parents and other people who took the time to attend the meeting—and even pay top dollar for parking on the night of Hamilton’s opening—who were not allowed into the room.

Think about that for a moment.

A Providence mother posted this to Facebook after being turned away from the meeting by security because the room was at capacity. Her “proof” was the picture below.

PAFF auditorium on Westminster Street—where the meeting was held— seats 188 people. Some of the community forums in the wake of the Johns Hopkins report saw larger crowds than that and this was the night of the actual vote on what countless parents have been pleading for. How is it even possible that nobody thought to be proactive and move the meeting to a larger venue, a more parking-friendly venue, a venue that actually had cell service and WiFi. (It didn’t help that concrete debris had fallen from an overpass on 95 and traffic was backed up on highways and in the city —not the fault of the Board of Ed or RIDE but quite the metaphor, eh?)

Throughout the day yesterday, some of us tried to confirm whether or not there would be a livestream of the meeting or not. I made the mistake of assuming there would be once since my own town manages to stream their school committee and town council meetings and this was a much anticipated and hugely consequential state board meeting—90 minutes before the start of the meeting myself and others received confirmation that there would be NO livestream.

Folks offered up the suggestion to FB live the meeting and change the settings to public so as many people as possible could access and share the link—but that was not possible because we could not get a strong enough signal on our phones to stream any video. Live-streaming on Twitter (using Periscope) was also impossible for the same reason.

Occasionally we could pick up a signal and get a tweet or text to send but for the most part, communicating what was happening to the outside world was not possible.

I find all of this indefensible. We hear so much about transparency and the importance of engaging parents and the community and then, we block them at the door of public meetings and also make it impossible for them to watch the proceedings online. It is so illustrative of how little consideration is shown for the public by those who call themselves public servants. If we are to believe it’s a new day in our capital city, we need to demand that they get this easy stuff right.

It isn’t hard — but it does mean one has to have the public interest top of mind.

Two thirds of the Providence school budget is funded by tax dollars that come from outside the city—every single taxpayer and Rhode Island resident should have had virtual access to last night’s meeting. But far more egregious is the fact that actual Providence parents, with children who attend Providence Schools, could not get into the meeting. That fact is utterly appalling. And unconscionable.

I was able to shoot video of the beginning of Commissioner Infante-Green’s presentation so at least those who couldn’t attend can get a taste of the tone of her presentation. I have pictures of slides from her presentation and took lots of notes which I will attempt to compile to at least share some important quotes and moments from the meeting.

But I had to start the day by calling out the failure of the state board of education and RIDE for not ensuring that every single person who wanted to attend the meeting or watch the meeting online be able to do so.

Fix this, now.

Note: the photo of folks standing in line was taken when they were walking individual people or groups of 2 or 3 to open seats—the people pictured did ultimately get in. I was waiting in line behind them and I too got in. But once every seat was taken, admission was denied.

What do you think?

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