RI Students Sue For Right To Civics Education

The 14 students claim they are not learning enough about their rights to use them.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE)-Students in Rhode Island are taking a hands-on approach to their civics education, suing the federal government for not making this type of learning mandatory in the classroom. “Our school system in America is just inherently failing so many students because it’s not giving students the information they need to actively contribute to making changes in this country,” said Musah Mohammed Sesay, one of the fourteen plaintiffs in the suit with ages ranging from elementary to high school.

Jennifer Wood, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice, is a co-counsel in the lawsuit Cook vs. McKee filed in 2018. “Most of the young people we represent came to us because they said, ‘No one has ever explained to me how voting works, how taxation works, how my government works. How am I supposed to participate and be a responsible adult if I never get this information through my public education?'”

A total of 10 amicus briefs have been filed in support of the students’ cause, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP, Latino Justice, the National Council for Social Studies, and Harvard professors Danielle Allen & Meira Levinson.

In September, Gov. McKee took action to sign legislation making civics education a requirement for all high school graduates, set to take effect in 2023. “This legislation will help ensure that our graduates have the knowledge they need to both understand and participate in all levels of government.”

Today, that case was heard in the first circuit court of appeals and effectively dismissed in Rhode Island. Yet the experience has still been one she feels is helpful to teach the students exactly what they’re hoping to learn, and they’re not giving up. “Ironically, most of them now are pretty well informed about how most of this works because they are plaintiffs in a lawsuit. I believe that they shouldn’t have had to sue the government in order to get the fundamental education they need to participate in government,” Wood explains. “If the court rules against us, these young people have already committed to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if that’s what it takes.”

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