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ACLU strikes again

August 23, 2010

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing Cranston Public Schools over their policy on school volunteers. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a mother who was barred from volunteering in her child’s classroom because she has a criminal record and a history of drug addiction.

The lawsuit alleges that parents who seek to volunteer in their children’s classrooms are subject to more stringent background checks than teachers or outside vendors. ACLU attorneys say public schools across Rhode Island have begun adopting similarly stringent volunteer policies, which they believe are depriving more and more parents of the opportunity to participate in their children’s educational lives.

This is the third challenge involving public schools that ACLU attorneys have filed in recent weeks. A complaint lodged last week with the state Department of Education challenges the constitutionality of a mandatory uniform policy in Woonsocket Public Schools. The ACLU has also threatened to sue the Cranston School Department over a sign in a high school auditorium which contains the words “Our Heavenly Father.”

Cranston school officials say the volunteer policy was intended to protect the safety of children in public schools, and they say teachers are also subject to criminal background checks. Cranston School Committee Chairman Michael Trafficante questioned whether the district can afford to pursue potential litigation, noting that school officials have already had to cut several popular programs and must pay back a loan of roughly $6 million to city officials over the next five years.

“We eliminated athletics, we eliminated music and art, and I mean its getting to a point where its foolish to spend the money on litigation,” he said.

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