Parents, advocates push for Pittsburgh to end suspensions for younger students

They’re seeking a change to the Code of Student Conduct.

Courtesy Education Rights Network
Sarah Anne Hughes

At public hearings before the Pittsburgh school board, speakers are given three minutes to express their concerns before their mic is turned off.

Glenn Grayson, a parent who signed up to speak in favor of a suspension moratorium at Monday’s meeting, found similarities between cutting off the mic and suspending students, rather than “actually addressing the root causes and reasons our students act out in the first place.”

“When our time is up, we cut ’em off. We tell ’em they can’t talk anymore,” he said. “This three minutes is exactly what we do when we suspend our kids.”

Led by One Pennsylvania’s Education Rights Network, advocates and parents are calling on Pittsburgh Public Schools to end out-of-school suspensions for children in pre-K to fifth-grade for “minor infractions.” That change could come as the board seeks input on the Code of Student Conduct. The first of three community meetings on the document is Wednesday at Pittsburgh Obama.

At a board meeting last month, Pamela Harbin of the Education Rights Network presented an analysis of PPS data on suspensions. The group found the following:

  • During the 2015-16 school year, more than 4,000 students were suspended at least once. Those students were overwhelmingly black.
  • Black students missed 12,639 days of school during the 2015-16 school year because of out-of-school suspensions; black students in kindergarten through fifth-grade alone missed more than 2,500 days.
  • Sixty-five percent of suspensions during the 2015-16 school year were for “disruption of school.” A minor disruption of school is described in the Code of Student Conduct as a Level 1 infraction, or “those of a less serious nature that do not necessarily pose a threat to the health, safety or property of any person.” A major or repeated disruption of school is a Level 2 infraction, “those of a serious nature that may pose a threat to the health, safety or property of any person.”
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Education Rights Network

“I want to be clear that the data I’m sharing tonight is not an indictment of this new administration,” Harbin said last month. “It is a reflection on past policies and practice, but we must share and discuss this data in order to plan a way out of this mess.”

School board President Regina Holley said today that the board is “looking seriously” at ending out-of-school suspensions for kindergarten through second-grade students for non-violent infractions, a recommendation of the Council of Great City Schools.

“We haven’t heard yet really what the teachers would like to see in terms of no out-of-school suspensions,” she told The Incline.

The board will consider changes to the Code of Student Conduct in April. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, the board voted to create three, instead of two, levels of misconduct last year and included language to emphasize the “use of restorative practices” like small conferences between students.

Give your input at these meetings:

  • Wednesday, March 22, 7 to 9 p.m. Pittsburgh Obama, 515 N. Highland Ave. (East Liberty)
  • Thursday, March 30, 4 to 6 p.m. Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, 10 S. 19th St. (South Side)
  • Wednesday, April 5, 7 to 9 p.m. Pittsburgh King, 50 Montgomery Place (Allegheny Center)