Loud students participate in government — by suing it

Students in Rhode Island are asking the Federal Court of Appeals to affirm that all public school students have a constitutional right to a civics education, saying that they are not taught how to participate meaningfully in a democratic and civil society and that the January 6 rebellion in the U.S. Capitol was a symptom of that ignorance.

Their lawyers say students across the country need to know how to participate in the political process, effectively exercise their constitutional rights and learn skills such as media literacy to distinguish between accurate and false information.

The plaintiffs asked the Boston-based First Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court’s decision dismissing the case, declaring that there is a constitutional right to an adequate civic education, and returning the case to the district court.

Such a judicial declaration is sorely needed, says the memo they submitted to the court, in light of the January 6 events carried out by “a mob motivated by a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of Congress in the electoral vote count.”

Oral arguments will be heard on Monday.

Moussa Mohamed el-Sisi was a high school student when he became a prosecutor in 2018. He said at the time that he had not even learned the basics of how to participate in democratic institutions. He said he did not know how local government operates or how decision makers are affected by the citizens who govern them.

Moira Hender joined the lawsuit on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter, June. I took June to see city council meetings in Providence, and they visited State Palace to see people testify. When they went together to the federal court for this case, John asked, “What is a judge, what is a court?”

“I feel like a lot of that falls on me as a parent, to try to explain these concepts to the best of my ability and show her how things work,” said Henderer, of Providence.

“Participation in democracy requires tools,” she said Tuesday. “And if we’re raising young people to become citizens of a democracy, that requires some thought about how to educate them.”

The accused include the governor of Rhode Island, the commissioner of education and other education authorities. Their attorney, Anthony Cotton, told the Court of Appeals in a brief that binding legal precedent established the lack of a fundamental right to education under the US Constitution.

“The appeal must be dismissed and dismissed, and Rhode Island’s sovereign right to determine what is taught in its schools is preserved in accordance with Supreme Court precedent,” the memo states.

U.S. District Judge William Smith of Providence dismiss the case A year ago, he ruled that while it is clearly desirable, and even necessary, that citizens understand their civic responsibilities, this is not something the Constitution contemplates or mandates.

But he warned that “democracy is in danger” and commended the students for raising the case, which he said “highlights a profound flaw in our national educational priorities and policies.”

“We hope that others with the capacity to meet this need will respond appropriately,” Smith wrote.

The plaintiffs’ chief attorney, Michael Rebel, said Tuesday that he always tells people it’s the best decision he’s ever lost because Smith helped prove why civics is so important.

Rebel said the January 6 Capitol Rebellion further demonstrates why the right to an adequate education for a capable citizen is essential to the survival of American democracy. Rebel is Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Center for Educational Justice at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“Those who participated in the January 6 rebellion and even those who may have appeared there and supported a position but were not violent, I don’t think they have any understanding of how the Electoral College works, and what the role of Congress is in confronting the president. Anyone who graduates from high school should have That kind of background information. This is one of the big gaps that we face in our current broad political standing in this country.”

Student Complaint foot in nofSeptember 2018Minority and low-income students, and students learning English, say, are disproportionately affected by disparities in opportunities for civic engagement. However, the appeal focuses on constitutional issues rather than this claim.

Ripple said he would petition the US Supreme Court if the appeal is denied.

The defendants argue that the plaintiffs confused the importance of education as a historical national value with its place as a source of a fundamental constitutional right, and that the state put in place a framework and direction to help ensure that civics is an important part of the school curriculum. Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ specific factual claims would be better served to a local school board than to a court, their brief stated.

The governor of Rhode Island signed a law in July requiring public school students to demonstrate proficiency, as defined by districts, in teaching civics and to undertake at least one civics project, starting in 2022-23.

Mark Santo, who serves on the Providence School Board and joined the lawsuit on behalf of his son, called the new law an unfunded mandate without much direction.

“It seems more important than ever for children, no matter where they live, and no matter who they are, to understand the rights and responsibilities of American citizens,” Santo said Tuesday. “I don’t know where kids are supposed to pick that up if they’re not going to learn it in school.”


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