School takeover, abortion debate are Rhode Island’s top news
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The state takeover of the struggling Providence school system, a debate over abortion rights in the General Assembly and immigration protests at a detention facility were among the top stories in Rhode Island in 2019.
Other top headlines included the political rifts in the Democratic Party and an investigation into the head of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
A look back at the state’s top stories of the year:
Rhode Island took control of Providence’s schools Nov. 1. It’s expected to take at least five years to turn around a district that has been beleaguered by low test scores, crumbling infrastructure and widespread dysfunction. The state takeover was announced shortly after a scathing report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University was released in June. The review found the school district, the teachers union and the state Department of Education were all failing children, and researchers labeled the district among the worst in the nation.
Anticipating renewed federal fights over abortion, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed legislation passed by the General Assembly in June to preserve federal abortion protections in state law. The signing took place after months of debate over whether the state was expanding abortion rights. Raimondo and other proponents maintained that the measure simply codified the status quo. Legislative hearings routinely drew large, boisterous crowds to the Statehouse.
DETENTION CENTER DEBATE
The Jewish youth movement Never Again Action continues to hold protests outside the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. The facility resumed housing people detained by federal immigration authorities in March, a decade after a man’s death there ended the practice. At an August protest, a prison guard drove his truck through the group and other prison personnel deployed pepper spray. Rhode Island’s attorney general said in October that the guards wouldn’t face charges. About 200 protesters returned to the facility this month to once again demand that it stop housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.
Rhode Island’s Democratic House speaker faced opposition from members of his own party. Democrat Nicholas Mattiello retained his powerful leadership post despite that opposition, but some female lawmakers continued to criticize him as dismissive of women’s issues — and criticize the legislative process as not transparent — throughout the legislative session. Last month, when the Rhode Island Democratic Party approved bylaws banning its Women’s Caucus from endorsing candidates on its own, women leading the caucus announced the establishment of their own organization, separate from the state party.
WAR COLLEGE WOES
The head of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport was removed from his post in June, days after The Associated Press reported he was under investigation amid allegations of mismanagement. The AP reported that Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley was under investigation for allegedly spending excessively, abusing his hiring authority and otherwise behaving inappropriately, including keeping a margarita machine in his office. The naval inspector general said in December that the case is still open. Harley’s successor, Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, assumed command of the school in August. She’s the first female leader of the war college.