EAST PROVIDENCE — Students and teachers from the East Providence High Social Studies department welcomed the Honorable Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Luis M. Matos and Rhode Island Bar Association President J. Robert Weisberger to the school’s 12th annual “Law Day” Friday morning, May 2.
The near two-hour session conducted at EPHS was part of the larger Rhode Island Bar Association and Rhode Island Judiciary state Law Day, when teams of volunteer attorneys and judges, like Judge Mattos and Attorney Weisberger, delivered law related education lessons in over 50 classrooms to thousands of upper and middle school students throughout Rhode Island.
The 2014 theme, “Your Rights under the United States Constitution,” presented information aimed at soliciting student opinions, discussing legal issues relating to a specific topic and reviewing the role of judges and lawyers play in the legal system.
The choice of EPHS Department Chairman Mike Silva and Social Studies teacher Mike Richardson for the local students to parse was the “Fourth Amendment: Police Questioning/Right To Arrest.”
Questions up for discussion included: Can a school require a student to submit to random urine or other tests to qualify for participation in school extracurricular activities or interscholastic athletics? Can a teacher or principal search a student’s personal belongings if there is reasonable cause such as violating school rules or policies? Does a police officer or other individual ever have the right to stop a person and ask for their identification without any clear indication of the individual’s wrong doing? What facts might influence whether this action is legal or illegal? For examples, recent criminal activity in the area or an individual’s past history with legal issues.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to make the students aware of legal issues that exist in society today and perhaps create an interest in law,” Mr. Richardson explained. “We’re also trying to show the kids how the law applies to them both inside and out of the school setting. They seemed to enjoy it.”
Mr. Silva noted teachers in the Social Studies department spent previous classroom sessions prepping students on the Fourth Amendment. He added, students who attended Friday’s lecture, well over 100 in total, are currently taking either Criminal and Family Law or Civics classes.
The students engaged Judge Matos and Attorney Weisberger, an EPHS alum, on various aspects of the Fourth Amendment, leaving both impressed with their interaction.
“It was very nostalgic for me. I really enjoyed it. It’s the first time I’ve been back in the building since I graduated. Not much has changed, which is kind of nice,” Attorney Weisberger said. “I thought the students asked some very, very good questions. I thought there was excellent participation and they’re general knowledge of the subject matter was good.
“Civics is such an important aspect of education. To have the opportunity to participate, to be a part of that is really a privilege for me.”
Like Attorney Weisberger, Judge Matos was making his first appearance at EPHS for Law Day and came away impressed with the tone of the discussion.
“We’re here to expose the students to the law because most of them will be impacted by it in some manner, whether it be minor or major, at some point in their lives,” Judge Matos said. “We wanted them to ask questions, be engaged. And hopefully maybe we planted a seed of civic interest.”