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Pittsburgh Public Parents To Rally Against Disproportionate Suspensions Before School Board Meeting

Minority students are being unfairly targeted for out-of-school suspensions, according to some parents, teachers and concerned citizens expected to rally before Pittsburgh Public Schools ' 6 p.m. board meeting at their Oakland office on Tuesday.

Black children represented 54 percent of Pittsburgh's 26,041 students last year but received 77 percent of the district's 9,382 suspensions, according to data compiled by advocacy group Great Public Schools Pittsburgh. Students with disabilities accounted for 17 percent of enrollment but received 27 percent of out-of-school suspensions. 

The same data shows white students compose 33 percent of enrollment but accounted for only 14 percent of out-of-school suspensions.

Advocate Pamela Harbin plans to address board members after the rally. A mother of two PPS kids, she said board members need to change guidelines that lead to harsh school disciplinary practices like suspensions.

“When you suspend a child even one time from school it can take the child off the educational track and put them into this school to prison-pipeline track," Harbin said. "So we want to make sure that we keep our kids in the classroom, and in order to do that, you need to have supports in place. You need to have the right policies and practices.”

Advocates want policies that work to keep students in school, correct behavior and foster success. And in addition to changing policy, Harbin said the culture of disciplinary action has to change.

“Its not just the code of conduct," Harbin said. "It’s the climate of our schools and how we need to have the things in place that will make our schools positive climates and not climates where students will be acting out.”

Carmella Jones has five children attending Pittsburgh Public Schools. She said last year, one of her daughters, who has been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, was suspended for three days after ripping papers off the wall.

“That’s unfair. Let's find out why she’s doing the things that she’s doing," she said. "And not only does the suspension affect the child, it does affect parents.”

Jones is rallying for more in-school support for students, ending the suspension of K-5 students for non-violent offenses, training of school officers and transparency about suspensions.

“From the experience I’ve seen first-hand, these are kids with more or less behavioral problems and its not like the suspension is going to help them. It's more or less just putting a bandaid on the problem. A lot of these kids just need a caring adult that just basically says, ‘OK. What’s wrong? Why are you acting this way?’"