Sen. DiMario introduces bills to elevate
teacher, parent voices in education


STATE HOUSE – As debates around schools and education rage on cable news and in state houses across the country, Sen. Alana DiMario has introduced a package of bills aimed at elevating the voices of those closest to the ground: teachers and parents.

“People closest to the situation should have more of a say in what’s going on in our schools,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham). “We too often make policy decisions without teachers in the room or decisions about children’s education without parents in the room. We need to amplify the voices of educators and strengthen the partnerships between parents and teachers.”

One bill (2023-S 0182) would appoint the Rhode Island teacher of the year as a non-voting member of the Board of Education (BOE). That individual would serve a one-year term starting the year after their term as teacher of the year has expired. If they chose not to serve, the commissioner of education would appoint a former teacher of the year provided that individual is still teaching in Rhode Island public schools.

“The Board of Education makes vital decisions that impact every teacher and student in the state,” Senator DiMario said. “But no one on the BOE works in a classroom every day. By elevating the voice of an outstanding teacher, we’ll improve the decision-making process to better serve our students.”

A second bill (2023-S 0180) would seek to improve parent-teacher partnerships during the development of Individual Education Programs (IEPs). It would require schools to seek parental consent before conducting an initial evaluation or making an initial placement of a student in a special education program, as well as prior to changes being made to any IEP services or placement.

“As a therapist who works with parents and children, I think sometimes school professionals can move too fast and parents can feel left out and unheard,” said Senator DiMario. “A school counselor knows what an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis means and what kind of IEP might work best for the student. But a parent hearing this for the first time might be scared and have a lot of questions. By slowing down and ensuring the parent is a partner in their kid’s education, we improve outcomes for everyone.”

A third bill (2023-S 0181) would allow local school districts to implement flexible schedules for students and teachers in the five days following the tragic death of an educator or student. The school district could use that time for funerals, days of mourning or to train staff in grief counseling for students. Schools would not be required to make these days up at the end of the year. Under existing law, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) must approve any modifications to schedules due to grief.

Last year, Alicia Biros, a North Kingstown teacher passed away unexpectedly. There was no time for proper communication with staff or families, and RIDE regulations did not allow any time off.

“Students found out their teacher had died tragically and then were asked to go back to learning difficult concepts and taking tests,” said Lisa Garcia, 2022 Rhode Island state teacher of the year who teaches at North Kingstown High School. “If a pipe bursts or there’s no heat in the building, we close school because we know that environment is not conducive to learning. Students that are grieving can be distracted, tired and unable to learn. In these situations, schools need time to properly make announcements, train staff, and implement supports for students and educators.”

Together, Senator DiMario said, the bills are all about empowering educator and parent voices and building a team to support learning.

“As a family therapist, I see that kids have the best outcomes when the adults in their lives are empowered to do what’s best for their child,” she said. “Educating our kids requires a real team effort. As policy makers, we should be partnering with teachers and parents to ensure our kids are getting the education they deserve.”