The case is being brought on behalf of 14 public school students, ranging from 6 months old to high school seniors, and their parents. Students Aletia Cook and Musah Mohammed Sesay, seniors at Providence Career & Technical Academy and Classical High School in Providence Public School District, are two of the co-plaintiffs fighting for this constitutional right. These individuals also represent a class of all students in the state of Rhode Island who are being denied the opportunity for an adequate education to prepare them to be capable citizens.
I have attended the public schools in Rhode Island for my entire life and have not been exposed to how to engage sufficiently in critical thinking or even the basics of how to participate in democratic institutions
Michael A. Rebell is lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Rebell is the executive director of the Center for Educational Equity and Professor of Practice in Law and Educational Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is also an adjunct Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, and Chairman of the New York State Civic Readiness Task Force. Previously, he was the executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, and co-counsel for the plaintiffs in CFE v. State of New York, a challenge to the system of funding public education in the State of New York which has established the right of all students in the state to the “opportunity for a sound basic education.” Rebell has also litigated numerous major class action lawsuits, including Jose P. v. Mills, which involved a plaintiff class of 160,000 students with disabilities. He also served as a court-appointed special master in the Boston special education case, Allen v. Parks. Rebell is the author or co-author of six books, and dozens of articles on issues of law and education. Among his recent works are Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts and Civic Participation (Univ of Chicago Press, 2018), Courts And Kids: Pursuing Educational Equity Through The State Courts (U. Chicago Press, 2009 and 2017 Supplement,) and The Right to Comprehensive Educational Opportunity, 47 Harvard Civil Rts-Civil Lib. L. Rev. 49 (2012. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.
Jennifer Wood, co-counsel, is the executive director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice. She has over 30 years of public interest experience in civil legal aid organizations, civil rights firms, state government, and legislative roles. Prior to joining the Center for Justice, she was the Deputy Secretary/General Counsel at the RI Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the General Counsel/Chief of Staff in the Office of the Lt. Governor. She also spent nine years as the Chief of Staff and Chief Legal Counsel at the RI Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Wood started her career as a fellow at Rhode Island Legal Services, before transitioning to private practice. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Northeastern University School of Law.
Samuel D. Zurier is a Rhode Island attorney who specializes in civic and appellate litigation. He served as co-counsel with Steve Robinson in the Woonsocket educational finance litigation. In 2003, Zurier was named a fellow of the Rhode Island Bar Foundation. He has taught Education Law as an adjunct professor at Roger Williams University Law School. Zurier currently serves as a member of the Providence City Council and previously was a member of the Providence School Board. Zurier is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School.
Stephen M. Robinson is a partner in the firm of Robinson and Clapham in Providence Rhode Island. He is an experienced attorney, who has specialized in education law and related fields for many years. Robinson has litigated two major state court litigations involving education finance issues, City of Pawtucket v. Sundlun, 662 A.2d 40, 102 Ed. Law Rep. 235 (R.I. 1995), and Woonsocket School Committee v. Chaffee, 89 A.3d 778 (2014.) Robinson is a graduate of Brown College and Suffolk University Law School.
The defendants are represented by Peter Neronha, Attorney General of the State of Rhode Island, and Anthony F. Cottone. Legal Counsel, Rhode Island Department of Education.