60 High Schoolers Protest at Providence City Hall
PROVIDENCE — Chanting "Keep Your Promise" and "My Feet Hurt," more than 60 Providence high school students made repeated laps around the inside of City Hall and urged Mayor Jorge Elorza to expand the number of students who receive bus passes to get to school.
The students, mostly members of a student activist group called the Providence Student Union, demanded that Elorza make good on his campaign promise to provide RIPTA bus passes to students who live at least two miles from high school. The PSU students were joined by Young Voices, another youth group, who wore purple T-shirts.
"If we're not getting kids to school, how can we expect them to learn?" said Roselin Trinidad, a senior at Central High School. "It's a no-brainer.
"Last spring, the mayor promised this would be a priority," she said. "In April, his budget didn't include funds for bus passes. Mayor Elorza did not fulfill his promise. It must mean that that it's not important to keep us safe and warm. We are here to hold the mayor accountable to his promise."
Elorza did not speak to the students. Instead, he issued a statement prior to the protest that said, "I remain committed to reducing the walk-to-school radius and fixing the school assignment process so fewer students are facing long commutes. I thank the PSU for their leadership and I look forward to meeting with them about immediate steps we can take to offer students a reprieve during instances of inclement weather."
Elorza also said he wanted to explore possible avenues for a partnership with RIPTA.
Tuesday's rally was the latest piece of political theater by the student group, which staged a "zombie" march through Kennedy Plaza last year in opposition to using a standardized test as a high school graduation requirement.
Last year, the group invited city officials and education leaders to "walk in a student's shoes." Dozens of elected officials, including Supt. Susan Lusi, followed a student as she navigated snowy sidewalks on her three-mile hike to Classical High School. Afterward, the school department provided RIPTA bus passes to high school students who lived farther than 2.5 miles from school.
At the time, city officials promised to lower the walking distance to two miles, noting that most similarly sized cities in the region have this limit. A monthly bus pass costs $62, a major expense for the district's largely low-income population.
More than 1,800 high school students live between two and three miles from school, although no one knows how many buy monthly bus passes.
The school department estimates that it would cost $680,000 to provide bus passes to students who live between 2 and 2.5 miles from school. Asked by Elorza to level-fund the budget this spring, the school department cut the money for additional bus passes from its $353-million budget proposal. School spending is ultimately approved by the mayor and the City Council.