It will be at least 20 days before the Rhode Island Department of Education holds a hearing on a complaint protesting Woonsocket’s mandatory school uniform policy, but free speech and other constitutional issues many see as central to the dispute will be on the back burner when it begins.
Lawyers for the Woonsocket Education Department and the American Civil Liberties Union have agreed to first take up some comparatively uncomplicated procedural issues that might end the dispute and delve into the constitutional questions only if necessary.
Their plans were were mapped out by lawyer John Dineen of the ACLU and Richard Ackerman, legal counsel for the WED, during a preliminary hearing at RIDE headquarters yesterday. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist appointed RIDE counsel Forrest Avila as hearing officer to preside over the dispute.
Dineen sat across from Ackerman and Woonsocket Schools Supt. Robert Gerardi at a long conference table as a half-dozen reporters from around the state listened during the session, which lasted about 20 minutes. No arguments were made and no witnesses were called.