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What Changing Views of Zero Tolerance Mean for Pittsburgh Public Schools

Gates Foundation

Pittsburgh Public Schools might be modifying its Code of Student Conduct to reflect changing attitudes on zero tolerance. With input from parents, educators and students, the Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether or not to decrease the use of exclusionary discipline, such as expulsion and suspension, among other changes.

Cheryl Kleiman, a staff attorney with the Education Law Center, was one of the collaborators in the new proposal.

“The Education Law Center has been looking at school discipline and zero tolerance policies in Pittsburgh, around the state and nationally for tolerance policy is a policy that assigns predetermined punishment to a specific violation of school rules regardless of the situation or the context."

Kleiman says while they've become the norm nationally, zero tolerance rules have come under scrutiny because they are viewed as too rigid.

"The changes that are being voted on tomorrow night reflect a lot of stakeholder input," said Kleiman. "Parents, students, educators, teachers, as well as recent federal guidance on this issue. And reiterates the concerns for zero tolerance policies and instead provides more support and resources for school districts to minimize exclusionary discipline while keeping the schools safe."

The ultimate goal of the vote for critics of the zero tolerance policy was voiced by Dara Ware Allen, superintendent of student support services for Pittsburgh Public Schools.

"What we're looking at is providing more discretion for individual context to be taken into consideration while still understanding and elevating the seriousness of certain behaviors. So that one is a change that will allow more discretion to take into account individual circumstances."