House OKs McNamara bill to re-establish Nowell Academy to assist pregnant, parenting teens


STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives has approved legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) that would re-establish the Sheila C. “Skip” Nowell Academy, an institution that focuses on the diverse needs of pregnant and parenting teens, as a state school.

The bill (2024-H 7560), which is supported by the Department of Education, would also change the operating structure of the academy to establish a cooperative agreement among school districts. Under the legislation, it would become a public school and cease operating as a charter school.

“This is a unique structure that will enable students who are at risk of failure to have the support they need, keep them in school, and give them daycare for their children,” said Representative McNamara, who chairs the House Committee on Education. “It would allow any student in any school district to apply for this alternative program that is geared specifically for their needs.”

The academy has existed for 12 years as a charter high school, filling a need statewide for students who need special supports because of their status as pregnant or parenting, including offering daycare for children so their parents can go to school. Because of its unique program, the school has faced many challenges as a charter school, particularly when it comes up for renewal.

Changing it to a public state high school would give the academy the long-term support it needs to continue building on its foundation of giving pregnant and parenting students the unique services they require.

When the bill was being considered on the House floor, Rep. Cherie L. Cruz (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket) spoke in favor of the legislation, recalling her own past as a parenting student: “I was a teen parent who used the (now defunct) day care at Tolman High School, and it gave me a second chance to have another year of high school and then transfer over to CCRI. There is a great need for this in Pawtucket and Central Falls and other urban communities, and it really does make a difference.”

The Department of Education hopes to make the school a model, where enrollment would be referral-based. As a charter school, the academy is currently compelled to use the charter school lottery system, establishing several deadlines that do not line up with the needs of students who may not even know they are pregnant at the time the application period ends.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2024-S 2807) has been introduced by Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket).          



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