STATE HOUSE – Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, working collaboratively with the Rhode Island Department of Education and Rhode Island College, announced that a resolution has been reached regarding future programming for blind and visually impaired students. A press conference, also attended by Governor Daniel J. McKee, was held today at the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities, located at Rhode Island College.
Speaker Shekarchi and Senate President Ruggerio pledged that the Sherlock Center will maintain its funding for the next two next years in the state budget. Working in tandem with Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, it was announced that the Master Price Agreement (MPA) for services for blind and visually impaired students will be awarded for the next two years to the Sherlock Center, whose students will be able to continue services with their current teachers uninterrupted.
“Everyone involved came to the table to bring this situation to a resolution, and I thank my colleagues for working collaboratively to serve the best interest of these deserving students,” said Speaker Shekarchi. “I particularly thank the students and their families, who showed incredible determination and courage in coming forward to advocate for the services to which they are entitled. It is clear that the programs at the Sherlock Center are working and its students are thriving.”
Additionally, Speaker Shekarchi and President Ruggerio will form a House and Senate Working Group, comprised of four members from each body, which will work over the next several months to develop a long-term strategy and plan for the state’s services for blind and visually impaired students.
President Ruggerio said, “The relationships these teachers have forged with students over the course of years of working together are instrumental in the students’ success. We believe the funding we are committing to today will provide a bridge enabling us to work together collaboratively and develop a long-term solution. I am very grateful to everyone involved, particularly my colleagues in the Senate who made this a priority, and Speaker Shekarchi.”
Prior to the press conference, Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Senate President Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence), Governor McKee and Commissioner Infante-Green met with Rhode Island College President Frank Sánchez; Representatives Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Raymond Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence), Thomas Noret (D-Dist. 25, West Warwick and William O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence); Senators Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Valarie Lawson (D-Dist. 14, Johnston) Frank Lombardo, III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) and Ryan Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln); Frank Flynn, President, RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals; Larry Purtill, President, National Education Association of RI (NEARI), and Christopher Butler, Executive Director, INSIGHT.
“I thank everyone for coming together to find a solution that ensures crucial services are not interrupted for our blind and visually-impaired students and that they will continue to have access to the educators and programs that they need most,” said Governor McKee. “Our office is committed to working with all the stakeholders moving forward as an active participant in the discussions on how we best support students at the Sherlock Center today, tomorrow and always.”
The group also met with Sherlock Center students Ryan Lukowicz (age 15), Harper Troxell (age 7), Jackson Troxell (age 16); their parents, Diane Lukowicz and Paul Troxell; Sherlock Center Executive Director Amy Grattan, Ph.D. and Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) Elizabeth Doyle-Payne.
The Rhode Island Vision Education Services Program (RIVESP) is housed at the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College. RIVESP specialists work with blind and visually impaired students in more than 26 school districts across the state. However, the sole source contract with the Sherlock Center was slated to expire on June 30, and it was announced that, under a master pricing agreement, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) would solicit bids from qualified vendors, which sparked an outcry from students and families.